After 32 years of service to the province — 25 of them as a unit chief — paramedic Bob Michell is stepping down from full-time duty.
Last Thursday was his final day at the BC Ambulance Service’s Hope station before retirement and Michell (pronounced MY-chul) was working with his long-time shift partner, Mike Stuart.
“We were having an uneventful day until about three o’clock,” said Michell. “Then Mike said ‘You’re not going to believe this!”
A tour bus had crashed on the Coquihalla Highway, south of Merritt — and so began the biggest call of Michell’s career… on his last day of work.
“What are the chances of that?” asked Michell, who got home a few hours late that night.
“On our computer screen in the car, it tells you all of the units that are responding to the call,” he said. “It was lighting it up.
“There were 19 ambulances and six air ambulances dispatched: Merritt, Kamloops, Kelowna, Hope and Chilliwack.”
Michell was impressed by all the members of the public that were first on the scene and stepped in to help before emergency services arrived.
“Everybody did their best,” he said.
Michell figures he’s been on thousands of calls in his career — including four previous bus crashes — but this one was, “Absolutely, my biggest call.”
In 1982, Michell was working as a bellman at the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel when he got into part-time service at the Agassiz ambulance station. To get a sense of what he had signed up for, he rode “third” as an observer and his first call was with Peter Wheeler and Doug Lefebvre, for a congestive heart failure in Harrison Mills.
“My first call as an attendant was for a fractured leg at Sunshine Valley, in December of 1982,” recalled Michell.
In 1986, Michell was hired as full-timer and was stationed in Vancouver for holiday relief — and in 1988, he was promoted to unit chief in Pemberton. Part-time driver Milt Fernandez, a man of many hats in the town, was a big asset for the newcomer.
“I didn’t know where anything was and Milt knew all the roads,” said Michell. “Milt only ever drove. I’d jump in the attendant’s seat and say, ‘Let’s go.’”
Michell maintained a residence in Harrison, so when the unit chief position at Station 214 (Hope) came open in 1992, he bid his way back into the area. Michell served in that role until last year, when he stepped aside so his friend Rick Simon could bid for the position and move closer to home.
In addition to Stuart, who started as part-timer in Hope and is now a full-time paramedic, the station has seen two other locals start as part-timers and work their way into full-time careers.
Ian Tait, now in the Advanced Life Support program, came back to visit Michell during his last week. Sandra Jenneson, now a medical doctor, also dropped by.
“Sandra started riding third at age 15, as part of a high school program,” said Michell.
Within a year of arriving in Hope, Michell and the crew at 214 were faced with the tragic death of part-timer Carol Schlamp, who was killed in an ambulance crash west of Laidlaw on Jan. 26, 1993.
“It was devastating,” recalled Michell. “Carol was the first female paramedic to die while on a call in B.C.”
Hope’s ambulance 62678 is “Carol’s Car” and carries her name, in memory of her service and sacrifice.
Reflecting back on his time at Station 214, Michell said, “It has been a privilege to serve the people of Hope.”
And he’s not done. Michell plans to enjoy a few months of full retirement, before coming back for part-time shift work in Hope, starting in December.