Sunday, February 4, 2018

That time I was on the Skate Patrol for ten years (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this three-part series, I explained how I got my start on the Rideau Canal Skate Patrol. I left off in 2009, the year after we got new neon yellowish-green jackets. Here I am in said jacket at my favourite Ottawa footbridge:

2009 was a year with many changes, and not just the Obama bandwagon that Beavertails jumped on:

Someone finally realized that the two "Boot Patrol" patrollers who used to hang around at Confederation Park during busy Winterlude shifts would be put to better use on the ice, so MedVent took over all Winterlude first aid duties at Confederation Park as of that year, with their own dedicated first aid trailer and patrols.

A new manager in 2009 meant that I was scheduled to work every Saturday and Sunday, plus at least one weekday shift. The 14-18 hours of skating every week was pretty exhausting, to the point that I cut back on my hours at my day job to compensate.

I'd previously had mostly weekday and weeknight shifts, which were very peaceful and quiet; by contrast, the weekend daytime shifts were hectic and they always kept us busy responding and tending to incidents. It was only when I began working on weekends that I started to make decent use of my first aid training.

As time wore on, more and more new recruits already had extensive first aid experience. They were training to be paramedics, or they were on CUSERT, or on the ski patrol. My cohort was more of an anomaly in terms of origins and experience.

But on the Canal, at least, I was a veteran, and I was now a strong skater.

In 2009 I started a personal tradition where I always worked the first shift of the season, and gave an orientation tour of the canal to the new recruits. Here are the various entrances to the skateway, there's where I went to high school, here's where we keep our first aid supplies, the Bacon Bunner vendor at Concord will give you a discount... things they needed to know.

First Aid is all about preventing injuries, and that applies differently in different situations. On the ice, one point that was stressed upon us when I was a new recruit was the importance of clearing away the bristles left on the ice by the sweepers that brush the snow off the ice surface. If you don't see one of these bristles and hit it with your skate, you could easily stumble or fall. We used to have competitions for how many bristles each patroller could collect off the ice in a season. Those who went for an early morning skate invariably won by a significant margin.

Stray bristles on the ice surface aren't the kind of thing you learn in general First Aid training, so I made sure to pass along this knowledge to new recruits.

I actually posted a photo from that first orientation in the 2009 blog post Rideau Canal now open: Timeline to 2009. In the photo that I posted at the time, I cropped out the leftmost patroller so as to imply a pair, when in fact there were four patrollers—two pairs—one of whom was me! Here's the uncropped photo:

We had a house rule where if you fell, you had to buy your partner a Beavertail. And while we can remove hazards like sweeper bristles and napkins from the ice, cracks and bumps are unavoidable.

Increasingly, people wear headlamps when skating at night, and I think it's standard now for patrollers to skate with them on. I find it very distracting to skate alongside someone wearing a headlamp when I'm not, because my eyes can't adjust to the intermittent darkness as their head moves side to side. I'd tell new patrollers to "skate with your feet, not with your eyes," the idea being that if you're skating with your head down looking for cracks, you're not looking at your surroundings.

You also need to be ready to recover from the inevitable trip, instead of hoping that you'll see and avoid all potential hazards. Perhaps in response to my overconfidence, I gave an unplanned demonstration of this principle to the new recruits on that day. I tripped, and in my flailing recovery back-handed one of my fellow patrollers in the face. Ouf! Just an inch or two higher and we'd have had a broken nose demonstration, too. I didn't fall though!

2009 was the first appearance of the Ottawa Paramedics' Bobcat service vehicle. The paramedics and their previous vehicle, the "Gator", were already a presence on the canal, complementing the Skate Patrol and working out of the Skate Patrol trailer. At the end of a cold, quiet night, we'd sometime hitch a ride back to the Skate Patrol trailer on the Gator:

I don't have any decent exterior photos of the old Gator, which was built off a John Deere tractor chassis, but here's one on Flickr. I often would, and still do, habitually refer to the Bobcat as "Gator", which is not a cool thing to do around any paramedic who had ever used it. If you want a rant from a paramedic, ask them about what it was like to drive the Gator. Oh boy did they hate that thing.

Given that attitude to the old Gator, the new Bobcat was very welcome among Paramedics.

Early in 2009, we did a demonstration of a patient transfer into the then-new Bobcat. Here two skate patrollers have a 'patient' in a toboggan on the ice opposite the Skate Patrol trailer and I'm radioing in the incident. In the background, the paramedics retrieve their stretcher out of the back of the Bobcat:

You can tell this was a demonstration with a fake patient because (a) a real patient wouldn't need the Bobcat to transfer her to the ambulance pickup point at Fifth Avenue visible in the background, and (b) there's a bunch of us patrollers standing around doing nothing when the paramedics clearly have the situation under control. In a real incident, we'd either be doing paperwork for the incident or going back out on patrol.

Every five years, the NCC reissues its contracts for the canal. As I understand it, there are three in total: one for the ice maintenance, one for the maintenance of the fixtures (think emptying out the garbage bins), and one for the skate patrol. Lafleur de la Capitale had held all three contracts since the maintenance was privatized in 1996, but in 2012 two of the three contracts were won by other companies, with Demsis getting the Skate Patrol contract.

2012 was also the year that new change chalets and washroom huts were introduced, replacing the ones that had been in use since the 1970s. The whole Skate Patrol operation transferred to the new company pretty much intact, and I stayed on, including my traditional opening day gig. Here's a photo of the opening day shift, 2012:

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, coming soon, where I talk about some of the special duties I took on as a veteran patroller.

I had initially written this as one blog post, but when my proofreader had to take a break partway through, I realized I needed to break it up. I hope I kept your attention!

[You can read previous Canal related blog posts with the Canal label, or see a 2010 blog post with a list of prior Rideau Canal Skateway-related posts]

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