Pierre Brien, a resident of Waterloo, has been helping save lives in more ways than one since taking his first Emergency Medical Services course in Montreal in 1986. Apart from his full-time job serving as a paramedic for the town of Cowansville, Brien also served as a paramedic, first responder, and fireman for the town of Waterloo. He is also a first responder and CPR instructor, and he was involved with the Red Cross for over two decades. After a successful career spanning 35 years, Brien officially hung up his hat with the Cowansville Ambulance services on Feb. 21, with whom he has served with since 2000, and marks his official last day Tuesday, March 1 in Waterloo after serving the town since 1986.
“When I went to school in Lac-Mégantic, we had a big course in first aide. That was my first introduction to first aide and that got my attention when I was 14 years old. When I finished school, I had that course in mind so I became a fireman,” said Brien. “When we had calls involving injuries and causalities, I applied in Montreal in 1986 to take my course as an EMS (emergency medical services); today we call it a paramedic.”
When he became a paramedic, he took on the role as a first responder and CPR instructor, becoming the first for the Town of Brome Lake. “I was the first instructor with them when they started the services in Knowlton when they decided to start their own services there. I also did Sutton, Cowansville, Venise-en-Quebec, so I did a lot of first responder services.”
Training first responders helped form a good relationship with paramedics when called on the scene. “When we give the course to first responders, we see them on the job and the relationship between us and first responders is better. For them it’s a bit more pressure, but to me it’s complementary,” explained Brien. “If I see things on the field, I can give them some pointers and give them feedback after their intervention. It was fun at the same time giving the course and then meeting them on the field; it was nicer to see them in action.”
Brien said that working as a paramedic and being able to help people is a privilege. “Our main impact is just to be there for the community on the call. When they call 911, they open the door and it’s a privilege for us to go in their personal life,” he emphasized. “My main enjoyment was to be with them, try to solve the problem with them, bring them to the hospital, and feeling that we had an impact on the emergency that they had that day. It’s a privilege; it’s not just anything when you’re in bad shape and you let someone you don’t know into your life.”
The part that he will miss the most is that “human touch” that comes with the job. “Over the years, I don’t know how many calls I did, we saw so many people, but they never forget you though,” recalled Brien. “When they see me, they speak to me like they know me and sometimes I don’t recognize them because it had been so many years. They had to remind me what the case was and then I go okay, I remember going to your place now. There’s always a human touch, even if sometimes we cannot do much. Being there and reassuring them, that’s 95% of the job.”
Despite his retirement, Brien won’t be slowing down anytime soon as he will continue to serve as a first responders’ instructor for Waterloo and he will be reviewing cases of cardiac arrest and working with first responder teams if there are any issues.
“When I was younger I used to have a band so we will try and get back together after almost 40 years and I have plans to go camping, I have camping in Fairmount, so I’ll be there this summer. I have six grandchildren so I’m going to have to take care of them,” laughed Brien. “I am a town councillor here in Waterloo, one of my jobs, so I have a couple projects here in town that will keep me busy. I want to go back to the Red Cross as a volunteer because I enjoy working for them and they give very good services so I won’t be completely off duty.”
On his final words to the community: “Thanks to the people and the community for giving me the privilege to go into your life and to try to make a difference. I hope I did make a difference and I will never forget all the calls I did with them.”