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North Okanagan Shuswap group to help fill gaps in rural medical emergencies

Neighbours Helping Neigbhours to provide care until amublance arrives
The newly formed Southwest Shuswap First Responders Society is seeking volunteers and funding to provide emergency medical treatment in rural areas where ambulance response times are over 10 minutes. (File photo)

With some emergency service gaps in rural living, Falkland resident Martin Hennigar formed a first responder service to help fill the void.

A career paramedic since 1974, this is an idea that Hennigar has “kicked around” for a couple of years and formed the Southwest Shuswap First Responders Society (SSFRS) after getting the support of MLA Greg Kyllo, MP Mel Arnold and Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) Area D director Dean Trumbley. That backing “gave me the fuel in my veins to move forward with this,” he said of the society that was incorporated on April 26.

With the motto of Neighbours Helping Neighbours, the purpose of the organization is to provide immediate first responder medical aid to residents until BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) paramedics arrive, as already established societies do in the north and south Shuswap.

“One of the major catalysts is, with us being in excess of 30 minutes away from our closes ambulance response area, we’re kind of in a high risk area because of course a lot could happen in 30 minutes in a medical emergency,” Hennigar explained.

The SSFRS will respond wherever they’re needed, but Hennigar expects their primary coverage areas to be Falkland, Westwold, Monte Lake and Silver Creek – communities that don’t currently have a first responder group. The society will be comprised of fully trained volunteers who live in those communities, ideally with six in each. They’ll each be supplied with a full first responder kit, complete with a defibrillator, oxygen equipment and portable radio, but will use their own vehicles.

“This will provide a quicker response instead of them having to go to a centralized hall, wait for a partner to come and then get in the vehicle from there,” Hennigar explained. “This way… they can respond directly and get on scene a lot quicker than a model where we have a vehicle that they have to take.”

Another timely benefit of this format is that the program itself can be implemented much earlier than if they had to fundraise to purchase a vehicle, which he estimated would be anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000. As the society is currently dependent on grants-in-aid from the CSRD and provincial government funding to cover equipment, supplies and operating costs, Hennigar is trying to keep the budget small. He still, however, estimated the cost to fully equip each member at about $5,000 per person and another $1,000 for training to get their first responder licence.

“As time goes on, I’m hoping we can copy the model that South and North Shuswap have gone with their funding… they’ve been successful in getting tax based funding through the regional district,” he said, but added that CSRD financial services manager Jodi Pierce said it’s quite a process. “She said we would be looking at at least 2026, possibly into 2027… and that’s providing we get all the approvals, which includes a referendum to get that funding.”

Hennigar said that though he’s still waiting for basic funding to get the organization up and running, there are already 11 members signed up, three of whom are currently trained paramedics. He expects to hear back on grant requests by late August for a start date of Sept. 1.

The society will then sign a contract with BCEHS, which will dispatch the first responders for all emergency calls where ambulance response times will be longer than 10 minutes.

“So for our areas, that’s literally all emergency calls,” Hennigar pointed out. “I’ve worked in many of small communities where we’ve had to rely on a lot of our own resources and volunteer help.”

Anyone wanting to volunteer with the SSFRS can email

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About the Author: Heather Black

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