By Sheila Pihbbs
The Haldimand Press
For more than 30 years, Mark Schweyer has travelled the roads of Haldimand as a paramedic responding to emergencies and providing care to those in need. He has seen many changes from behind the wheel of the ambulance as he, along with his colleagues, has had an impact on his community.
Schweyer’s career as a paramedic began in 1983 when the position was referred to as “ambulance driver”. As a volunteer firefighter in Kohler with first aid and CPR he was a suitable candidate. After attaining the required F license, he worked in Fisherville part-time receiving on-the-job training from Bill Held, Paul Otterman, and Dick Yeates. In 1985 he attended Niagara College for two years for Health Science followed by Ambulance and Emergency Care.
After graduating in 1987, Schweyer became full-time with the ambulance service, which had transferred from Fisherville to West Haldimand General Hospital (WHGH). His entire career has been spent in Haldimand, which he admits could be a challenge at times. He explains, “The challenge of working where you grew up and live is being related to a lot of people… I’ve carried caskets of people I was related to after I was there on the call.”
Schweyer realized that, in order to survive on the job, you had to learn to process what you see. For him, attending church is important but he admits, “You never forget what you see.” One of the biggest changes has been the recognition of mental health and high stress on the job and he appreciates that there is help from the department when needed.
The job itself has changed a great deal as there is more education and training. Paramedics are able to treat more medical conditions with drugs while in transit and there are more diagnostic tools available. This is in contrast to earlier days when chest pains were treated with what they called “diesel therapy – get them to the hospital as soon as you can.”
With a career that spans more than three decades, Schweyer has experienced the pressure of the frontlines during the uncertain times of a health care crisis. After many months of working in a pandemic he says, “The scary part of it, as a profession, I would compare to AIDS.” At the onset, they had limited information on AIDS and how deadly or contagious it was. He recalls, “I remember going to a car accident and watching paramedics put extra gloves on.”
Schweyer says they were better prepared for SARS and they have screening tools and the necessary equipment for COVID-19. He says, “We have to screen every patient we encounter. We’ve never been short of PPE. The support of the community with donations of masks and PPE has been felt.”
When not behind the wheel of the ambulance, Schweyer enjoys the wood working business that his family started several years ago. He explains, “Paramedics are famous for having bad backs or knees so we started the wood business to have a back-up plan.”
He is also very involved in church council at Trinity Lutheran in Fisherville. Minor sports are a big part of life for the whole family, including his wife, Bonnie, and their three children. Mark has volunteered with minor ball and hockey for over 25 years; he quips that his profession has made him a trainer for his son’s hockey teams and he has been called “Paramedic Pete” by the players.
With just over a year remaining before he retires, Schweyer appreciates the experiences he has had with the Haldimand County Paramedic Service. Highlights include the babies and being involved in a birth. There are funny moments as well, as paramedics realize that what people perceive as an emergency can sometimes be the craziest thing. He says, “You have to laugh about it. The first time someone’s medic alert button goes off by mistake, you have to respond; they feel bad and offer you coffee, cookies.”
For Mark Schweyer, there is great satisfaction in seeing good outcomes and hearing about successful recoveries. He says, “We’re a small service but we cover a lot of square miles.” In those square miles are the people whose lives are touched every day by the first responders who do everything they can to make the good outcomes and successful recoveries happen.