Jeff Green | Jul 12, 2012
Photo: Betty Walker, first president of the Denbigh Area Volunteer Ambulance Service, Beverly Snider, secretary, original mebers Bill Snider and Ruby Malcolm receiving a plaque from Blake Forsythe athe 30th anniversary celebration.
Many of the founders of the Denbigh Ambulance Service in 1982 gathered at the Denbigh Park last Sunday, July 8 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the service.
Among the speakers who graced the stage during the formal part of the celebration were a number of the local volunteers who had served on the initial local board that was responsible for the service, as well as officials and training officers who were working out of Renfrew and Ottawa at the time.
One of them was Blake Forsythe, who is now late in his career with the Ministry of Health, where he is a senior field manager for ambulance programs.
“Back in 1982 I had the pleasure of working with Frank Payette, who was based in Renfrew at the time, and with the volunteers who had been working for two years to complete course work in First Response and a number of other areas so they would be qualified paramedics. Denbigh was the first volunteer service in Eastern Ontario, so the group here were real pioneers. I can truly say that I never met a more dedicated group,” said Blake Forsythe.
Before the Denbigh service started up, the closest ambulance base to the region was 50 minutes away in Renfrew, and after that Napanee, Bancroft, or Parham.
When the service first started up, three volunteers went to each call, (that was soon cut to two) and the ambulance was parked at the home of whichever volunteer was on call at the time. In the winter, the car was housed in the Denbigh township garage.
Bev and Bill Snider of Ashby Lake were early volunteers.
“At first the professional paramedics ignored us when we went to the Renfrew hospital, but after a few months I think they realised we were trained to do the job, just like they were, and they began to respect us. We even started being sent out in Renfrew and other places if we were dropping off a patient and a call came in,” recalled Bill Snider.
The first year’s budget for the Denbigh Ambulance was $12,000.
The volunteers received no wages and no mileage, just the occasional lunch after a call or a training session. Eventually a wage structure was developed for the volunteer service, in the interest of maintaining the service over the long term.
The Denbigh service spawned others in time, including Northbrook, Deep River, and even Wolfe Island, and Blake Forsyth talked about a number of meetings that took place in the late 1980s among volunteer ambulance services throughout the region, including a large conference at the Congress Centre in Ottawa. Some of the volunteers from Denbigh were also hired to work in dispatch centres in Renfrew and Napanee, and over the years a number of professional paramedics got their start as Denbigh volunteers.
Ambulance service in Ontario has changed greatly over time, with one of the pivotal events being the downloading of the service to municipal management, which took place about 10 years ago.
In Lennox and Addington, the volunteer model that had held sway in both Denbigh and Northbrook is being phased out, and as reported in the News earlier this year, the Denbigh service is being curtailed from 24 hours to 12 hours in the coming weeks.
This was not ignored on Sunday.
Art White, the retired manager of the Renfrew ambulance and dispatch centre, was also one of the people who was involved 30 years ago.
“I am retired, so I can say what I want,” Art White said. “The Denbigh service was identified as a necessary service 30 years ago and nothing has changed. I have read about the problem with money and all the numbers that are behind the decision to gut the service, and all I can say is that the only numbers that count are the distances. And it is the distances that led to Denbigh being set up. Any decision that is made can be reversed and I encourage all those who are fighting to keep the service in Denbigh to keep up the fight.”
Ruby Malcolm, one of the original members of the Denbigh Ambulance Service, was also the MC of the celebration. She pointed out that while two MPPs, John Yakabuski from Renfrew, and Randy Hillier from Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington, were on hand, representatives from the L&A County Ambulance Service had sent their regrets.
Addington Highlands Reeve Henry Hogg was at the celebration, and Ruby Malcolm said that as warden and a member of county council, Hogg has been an ardent supporter of the service.
She also said that the Denbigh community is not about to give up on their 24-hour service.
“We are not finished with this,” she said, “we are just re-tooling.”
After the speeches were over, it was time for music. John Yakabuski joined a group of local musicians for a few numbers, but not before Joe Grant performed a song about the Denbigh ambulance that he had written for the occasion.
Nor surprisingly Joe's song paid tribute to the community effort that created and maintained the service over 30 years, and included a few jabs at the municipal politicians who are planning on curtailing it.