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Dr. David Skuba commits over four decades to emergency services

Stepping forward in 1983 as a volunteer, Dr. David Skuba has been serving with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Bonnyville as a casual worker for over four decades.
Dr. David Skuba has been serving with EMS in Bonnyville as a casual working for over four decades.

BONNYVILLE - Stepping forward in 1983 as a volunteer, Dr. David Skuba has been serving with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Bonnyville as a casual worker for over four decades. 

“The service started out as a volunteer organization, much like the fire department still is,” says Skuba. “Now it’s all paid positions, but I started off when it was a volunteer service... There was a lot of comradery, and there still is. But the way it worked – it was a service that needed to get done and people wanted to help out.” 

Skuba moved to Bonnyville a year prior in 1982. He tells the serendipitous story of how he came to volunteer for the Bonnyville EMS.  

“The way it started out is there was a new manager, his name was Pierre Poirier... He lived about four doors down from me, so I was just walking by, and he was doing something in his yard, and I stopped to talk to him, and I asked ‘hey, how’s it going over there?’ He says ‘Oh It’s good, we’re always looking for people. Do you want to come to a meeting’?” 

The meeting went well, and Skuba felt the position would be a good fit for him. He initially started out as what they called a first aider, then shortly after he took his EMT training – and was what they now call a primary care paramedic.  

“It was a community group that needed help, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.” 

Skuba makes a reference to the proverb, “A change is as good as a rest” to describe his experience juggling his regular day job as a dentist with the fast paced and exhilarating work of saving lives. 

“I find it to be a break from what I do on an everyday basis,” says Skuba, yet he also highlights how complimentary his primary care paramedic training is for his job as a dentist.  

“Being able to be part of EMS actually helps me in my day job because sometimes some of the people we see in the office are not the healthiest either and there's been times when people have had some health concerns that we needed to be able to recognize.” 

Dr. Skuba is a prime example of how this sort of training can be widely applicable and useful for many people.  

When asked how he manages the stressful and sometimes heartbreaking nature of the job, Skuba could not say enough about how fortifying and important the training is, “You need to focus on what you need to do. Your training is what’s really important to help you deal with the situation... That’s what I'm sure other people in the service would tell you. A lot of times the emotional concerns hit you after. It's not when you're there. It's a few hours later, a few days later. When you're in the thick of it, your training is what leads you through the process.” 

Similarly, Skuba speaks of the ability to separate your emotions from your task, and have a clear understanding of your roll.  

“When I look back at a situation or a call, I look back on the actions we took... A lot of it is in your confidence in being able to say, ‘I did everything I was supposed to do’.” 

Skuba also highlights how invigorating the urgency of the job can be. 

“There's a certain amount of adrenaline. When you get a call, you don’t know what you’re going to get – of course they give you whatever information they can, but lots of times the information is sketchy... you have to be prepared to deal with whatever happens to be there.”  

He acknowledges, “Some of the calls are very... hard, they don’t all turn out good. But when they do, there's also a fairly big high.” 

Protective instincts run in the family, as Skuba’s son followed in his footsteps and also spent time working for the Bonnyville EMS.  

“There was an 11-year period of time when I could work with my son on some calls. He doesn't do it anymore, he’s with the Edmonton police, but that was an interesting time to be able to do that.” 

Skuba recalls when his son was in third grade, he wrote down what he wanted to be when he grew up. “He actually put ‘police’ down, because he said he liked to help people,” recalls Skuba. 

“This job – [EMS] you help people. With police services... you’re helping the rest of the community... keeping everybody else safe... Even during the day, my job is to help people. People come in with problems that we need to help them fix and this is an extension of that.” 

When asked if there is something special that makes him such a good fit for the primary care paramedic roll, Skuba responded with humility, referring to how effective the training is. But with pride, he referred to his son’s sense of duty and a desire to help those in need. 

When pressed about his possible influence on his son, he responded with a laugh, “I don’t know, maybe it’s a genetic thing.” 

Skuba contributes his long career with EMS, in part, to his casual position. 

“The thing I've found, only working casual is it doesn't become a grind for me as it does for the full-time staff. I can appreciate the full-time staff – there’s a lot of emotional turmoil and stress. They're very good at that – they support each other.” 

Mental health 

Skuba shared his appreciation for the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority’s efforts in mental health support for staff.  

“We have a lot of access to counselling and debriefings and things like that. The BFRA is working very hard to provide those necessary services for whoever needs them.” 

Changes and demand 

When Skuba first volunteered, the shifts were done at home.  

“[W]e would have a pager or a radio or whatever the technology was at the time. You would get a call and you would rush over there and then you would get your ambulance and go. Well, that was a much slower response time,” says Skuba.  

Now that the positions are paid, the shifts are done at the hall and the operation is all about efficiency.  

“The goal is – they want us to be out the door in 90 seconds. Then be able to be at somebody's place within four to six minutes. There are times when every minute counts, without a doubt.” 

Skuba talks about his recent shifts, as he continues to help fill in when needed.  

“I’m going to work tomorrow night because they have nobody else. That way... we have an extra ambulance in town. Otherwise, we’d be short. So, my roll is just to fill in the spots where it’s needed,” he explains. 

Skuba urges those interested to pursue a position with EMS, pointing to the high demand for EMS workers, especially in rural areas. 

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