BONNYVILLE - When Ken Hesson decided to pursue a career in paramedicine, he did so thinking it would be a casual side job that would be both fulfilling and complement his work in the oil patch.
So, in late 2008, Hesson took the first step of becoming an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR), after working in the oil patch for over 20 years.
In his mid-40s, he took the next step and became an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), now known as Primary Care Paramedic (PCP), and most recently in November of last year, he officially became an Advanced Care Paramedic.
While Hesson admits he always had a career in paramedicine in the back of his mind, back when he graduated high school in the 1980s there were not many career opportunities in rural Alberta. Born and raised in Bonnyville, Hesson is dedicated to serving his hometown.
So, he became a journeyman welder and started his own business. But the thought remained with him, and Hesson credits his passion to serving others to his own mom who was a nurse.
“I had it in my blood. It was something I always wanted to do.”
So, as his own kids got older, Hesson found himself placed directly in front of an opportunity to take his first course in paramedicine. It was while he was working as a contract teacher for NAIT at a campus in Bonnyville, teaching people in the trades, that he decided to become a student himself.
He approached the manager with Bonnyville Ambulance at the time and asked about casual work.
“As a casual, within my first month I was working over 200 hours a month,” he says, with a laugh. The job quickly turned into a full-time gig.
By 2009, Hesson was working full-time with Bonnyville Ambulance. That same year he went back to school by correspondence through Portage College to become an EMT, and then continued working full-time with Bonnyville Ambulance.
His role slowly grew, and he began taking on other portfolios and helping with accreditation. In 2013, he was asked to be the assistant manager, and around the same time the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) took ambulance operations under its wing. Hesson became the assistant deputy chief EMS at the time.
And while he may have moved through the ranks over the years into management positions, Hesson still finds himself working on car and remains a frontline supervisors as well.
In 2019, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hesson made the decision to go back to school one more time, again through distance learning with Portage College. He did so while maintaining a full-time position, and in late 2022 became an Advance Care Paramedic.
That same year, he also became the assistant division chief medical operations with BRFA, and in mid-January took on the role of interim division chief medical operations.
And while being on the business side of things is a role Hesson is familiar with, after running his own business for many years, being out in the community and working on the frontlines is his passion.
While he’s been asked by co-workers if he finds it difficult working as an emergency responder in his hometown, Hesson sees it only as a positive.
Responding to emergency incidents where he may know the people involved keeps him sharp and when he walks away from tough situations, he knows that all the proper steps have been taken for the best possible outcome.
Also, a big part of the job is transferring patients between medical centres, and if Hesson can be a familiar and calming presence to people who are going through cancer treatments, for example, or other medical procedures, he is happy to be that person.
“If I’m a familiar face and if I can give that patient... two and a half or three hours of pause... then my job is done... that’s why I do it.”
The most rewarding part of the job for Hesson is without a doubt every time a patient’s situation improves – whether it’s from something small or something major.
When asked about the challenges that face those working in paramedicine, Hesson acknowledges that like in all health care fields, staffing is no doubt an issue.
Speaking on a more personal level, Hesson says the most challenging part of the job for him is when responding to incidents that involve children.
“Working on kids is always tough.” But he uses this as motivation to be better and always continue learning. If he’s feeling unmotivated to complete a course, he simply thinks about how that education may help him out in the field one day, responding to those tough calls.
Mental health among emergency responders is another challenge that many are faced with.
But Hesson gives kudos to the BRFA for being a shining example of doing things right.
“We have a great mental health program,” says Hesson, crediting Regional Fire Chief Dan Heney and other leaders within the organization for their hard work on that front.
When asked what he would tell others who may be considering a career in paramedicine, Hesson says he encourages those people to reach out and request a ride along to get some first-hand experience about the job.
He also encourages youth to “do well in high school,” to keep their options open. Hesson admits he had to do some high school upgrading before he started taking courses.
While it can be a challenging job, Hesson says there are a few things the general public can do to help make the job easier.
First, if you see an ambulance with its lights and sirens on the road, pull over and stop. Don’t continue driving along the side of the road at a high rate of speed. When everyone pulls over to the side of the road and stops, it helps.
Also, if a member of the public has any health issues, they are encouraged to keep a record of that and any medications, along with their Goals of Care easily accessible and on the top of their fridge.
When responding to a home, the first place first responders will look for information on the patient is the top of the fridge.
Also, keep your address handy – whether it’s a street address or rural address – and make sure your children also know their address in case of an emergency. And make sure your address is posted clearly outside.
Clearly, Hesson is happy with the path he has chosen.
“It’s a great career. I plan on doing this [as long as] my body allows it. I find it very rewarding, and I have no plans on leaving my community.”