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Fire Brigade paramedics, a family affair

(PHOTO COURTESY MARIS JACOBS COMMUNITY INITIATIVES FUND SUMMER INTERN)

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Ashlan Phillips graduated on Sunday, along with seven of her classmates, from Kahnawake’s first-ever homegrown paramedic program. They newly-minted certified lifesavers will be on the road by the end of the month.

A year-and-a-half ago, she and nine others embarked on the training, which was taught in Kahnawake by Kahnawa’kehró:non.

“When I found out that I passed the exams I was relieved and very excited to know that all my time and dedication wasn’t for nothing,” said Phillips.

One of the instructors was her brother, Tanner Phillips, who is the Quality Assurance and Medical Instructor at the Kahnawake Fire Brigade (KFB).

“Working alongside my sister makes me incredibly proud,” Tanner said. “We are best friends, and being able to share this together has brought us even closer. Being her instructor required us to take on a different role than we were used to, but she rose to the occasion and excelled.”

It truly is a family affair, as both kids are following in the footsteps of their father Lloyd Phillips, who is Kahnawake’s Commissioner of Public Safety.

“To have both my children now being paramedics is a matter of pride for me,” Lloyd said. “They are carrying on the tradition of caring for our community. Even my wife Wendy (Walker) was with the KFB for a number of years and was an EMT in the 1980s.”

“I guess at this point it’s a right of passage in our family,” Ashlan said. “I almost half-jokingly said ‘I’ll do it’ when the course came about. My mom did it, my dad does it and my brother does it. So I thought I’m going to take my chance and apply.”

Despite being swamped with his work leading the COVID-19 Task Force, Lloyd continues to maintain his paramedic certification by filling in for a few shifts a month.

But now with the new trainees coming out of the program that he helped to create more than two years ago, and for which he served as an assistant instructor, his days riding the “bus” may be coming to an end.

The Kahnawake paramedic program became necessary because there was no longer an English program accessible for students from the community. So Lloyd, along with Dr. Aurel Bruemmer and fire chief David Scott took matters into their own hands.

“I supported the program from the inception to make sure the needs of the community were met,” Lloyd said. “It operates differently than Urgences Sante (the ambulance service for the Montreal area) but utilized criteria that was the same as Quebec. We do our best to train Kahnawa’kehró:non to service our community.”

While Lloyd was an assistant instructor, Tanner led the course.

“As a father to see that, also as a colleague, to see the incredible work that he pulled off and the hard work and blood sweat and tears to get this done (was awesome),” Lloyd said.

While the Phillips may be the first family of paramedics in the community, 26-year-old Zoe McGregor is also following in the footsteps of her family.

“My mother is a paramedic and that sparked my interest,” McGregor said. “I’ve always been involved with the Fire Brigade. It’s that now there was actually a program available to take part in because they weren’t taking any students from the New York State program.”

Her mother is Cheryl Montour, who has been with the KFB since 2006.

“It’s exciting and a little frightening because you’re dealing with people’s lives,” McGregor said.

“It’s not fun and games anymore, it’s serious. It’s always been serious; it’s just that now you’re in charge, you’re responsible for this person. Whereas, being a student you are responsible, but if you make the wrong decision you have someone there guiding you. It’s nerve-wracking because now it’s you and your partner.”

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