Emergency dispatch was a profession Jamie Knapman had never considered, although in the long run it turned out to be one he could never give up.
“Never had crossed my mind before,” Knapman said, and after the first day he didn’t look back for the next 29 years. “Then I definitely enjoyed it to the end.”
Knapman calculated 6,555 shifts and close to 78,600 hours that came to a halt on Nov. 24, 2019. While he holds no regrets over his career choice, he does admit a bit of trepidation during the last six months despite plans he and his wife, Coleen, a retired Regina (Saskatchewan, Canada) police officer, eagerly anticipated.
“It will definitely take some time to adjust,” he said.
The job, however, appealed to Knapman almost from the start.
“The hands-on of helping people” was Knapman’s intention in attending an EMT course. In 1983, he got his start with Olson’s Ambulance, a contracted private service in Regina. Four years later, in 1987, he was among the first employees of Regina Area Municipal Road Ambulance District (now known as Regina EMS), splitting his time between ambulance response and 911 emergency communications.
“I definitely enjoyed dispatch,” Knapman said. “Helping people was a real positive. Quite a rush being able to do that.”
The job, he admits, did not come without the associated stress, and there’s a scenario he likes to describe when asked about the life and death possibilities that could come over the phone at any time.
“On one phone line I could be helping someone perform CPR on a loved one, and on another line I could be helping someone deliver a baby,” he said.
Although the scenario terrified him, he approached the situation exactly as predicted when it did happen (going back and forth between the callers).
“I was helping someone bring a baby into the world while at the same time trying to help someone save another [person] from leaving this world,” he said. “Yes, I always thought this scenario could happen but really, what were the odds of it?”
Rarely finding out the outcome of a call was something he also described as a drawback, although the ability to give DLS instructions when the MPDS® was implemented in the early 1990s gave a better indication of the patient’s chances and what responders were getting into. The years prior to protocol, he refers to as the “cowboy days.”
“No interrogation of callers,” he said. “We’d get an address and phone number. We never knew what we were sending our responders to. It might be a murder scene or cardiac arrest. Protocol added a lot of value.”
Knapman’s last day wasn’t a matter of going out on a whimper. His retirement attracted such a slew of co-workers that it took three farewell parties (one at the office and two at home) to fit in all the goodbyes and well wishes.
The events underline the respect co-workers had for Knapman, said Dusten Gessner, Communication Specialist/Superintendent, Medical Communications Coordination Centre (South).
Knapman was at the top of experience and, yet, always looking to improve when he observed or heard something that impressed him, Gessner said.
“He’d ask the newest employee, ‘Hey, how did you do that?’” Gessner said. “He wouldn’t sit back and act as if it was no big deal or something he would have done, given the chance.”
Saying goodbye, though difficult, is not the end to long-lasting friendships and, of course, the memories of answering literally thousands upon thousands of 911 calls last. The final two calls Knapman answered—cardiac arrest and uncontrolled hemorrhage—were typical for emergency dispatch, but certainly nothing short of a crisis for the people involved, he said.
Despite the outcomes, which he doesn’t know, he went home at the end of his career the same way he did at the end of any day in his long career.
“I know I made a difference in someone’s life,” Knapman said. “We do our job the best we can with the equipment we have and hope for the best.”