Rewarding cup of coffee for veteran Etobicoke paramedic who helped save life


For bringing back a trucker from the brink of death, Etobicoke paramedic Bill Dobson got the most rewarding coffee of his life, four years later.

During a night shift in 2009, Dobson went into a coffee shop near Highway 27 and Rexdale Boulevard, and while he was standing in line, he noticed a tractor-trailer pull up.

“This guy parks his truck and walked in,” Dobson recalled. “He saw me in line, and he knew my name. He goes, ‘Bill, I want to buy you a coffee.’”

When Dobson asked why, the trucker replied, “You saved my life.”

“He started giving me the details, and I remembered the call right away,” said Dobson.

It happened in 2005 at the CNE when the trucker called 911 after experiencing heart-attack symptoms.

“When we arrived on scene, he was sitting on the step of his truck and was quite pale, and he looked like he was in rough shape,” Dobson said. “I introduced myself and my partner, and we went through our protocols, and we got him in the back on the stretcher. We got him on a cardiac monitor, and we realized he was having an acute MI, which is a heart attack.”

Dobson and his partner started an IV and began treatment.

“He went into full cardiac arrest as we started transporting,” Dobson said. “I notified my partner, who was driving, to pull over and come into the back.”

The paramedics intubated the trucker, administered more antiarrhythmic drugs and defibrillated him three times before they got a pulse back.

The trucker was then rushed to the cardiac centre at Toronto General Hospital.

“They continued to work on him, and we didn’t know the outcome at the time. It was still guarded when we left,” Dobson said.

It wasn't until Dobson’s chance encounter with the trucker four years later that he learned that his life-saving efforts that day were successful.

“The highlights of my career are when you have a call which looks like it may not be successful and it is. The highlight is actually sometimes meeting these people,” Dobson said.

Dobson, 59, is among three Toronto Paramedic Services members who will be honoured for exemplary service, during a ceremony at Queen’s Park on Nov. 28. The other two Toronto recipients are paramedic Brian Ogawa and Supt. Dean Shaddock. The honour is in recognition for their dedication to their profession and the outstanding manner in which they conduct themselves. 

Dobson knew from a young age that he wanted to work in emergency services.

Growing up in Etobicoke’s Markland Wood area in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he got to ride in ambulances and became fascinated with the profession.

“When I was a kid, there were a lot of injuries (with) friends of mine requiring ambulances. We were involved in a lot of sports and motocross,” he said. “One of the things that struck me was … how those ambulance attendants, back in the day, made you feel while you’re going through one of the most difficult times.”

During his high school years, Dobson said, he worked as a ski patroller, administering first aid, and realized that he excelled in chaotic environments.

“I became very focused and very in the moment and was able to be very calm in those scenarios,” he said. “It’s just the way my personality was configured: I did better in chaos than I did in regular life.”

After high school, Dobson attended Centennial College’s one-year ambulance and emergency care program.

He graduated in 1981 and was hired as an ambulance attendant for York South Ambulance, a job that paid $7.90 per hour. In 1983, he got his dream job with Metropolitan Toronto Ambulance. “I was making $11.97 (per hour), and that was the highest-paid (ambulance attendant job) in the country,” said Dobson.

The field of paramedicine was still in its infancy at the time.

“We had extensive training in college, but the actual treatment we could do was very limited. We could do CPR, give oxygen and do advanced first aid in the field,” Dobson said.

It wasn’t until the early ‘90s that Dobson received his paramedic designation and was able to provide advanced life-support care.

"" Paramedic Bill Dobson (right) found himself in the pages of the Toronto Star in 2005 when he and his partner attended a call that, sadly, ended up as a murder. In the photo, the paramedics console the father of the 17-year-old murder victim outside the ambulance. Henry Stancu/Toronto Star file photo

Dobson worked as a front-line paramedic up until two years ago, when he suffered a serious knee injury as a result of an encounter with a large, violent patient.

He now works in logistics support, supplying paramedic crews with equipment during the course of their shift.

“When I got injured, I thought it was the worst thing that happened,” Dobson said. “But it actually turned out to be the best, because I ended up on a light-duties job … so it’s given me an opportunity to transition slowly out of this career that has become my identity for so many years."

It’s not known how many people Dobson successfully resuscitated over the course of his career. But what is known is that he delivered or helped deliver a total of 24 babies.

“It’s probably, strangely enough, one of the most stressful calls,” he said. “You don’t encounter them very often, and there are so many things that can go wrong. Most of the time, the deliveries are perfectly fine and there are no complications, but when you do have them, it’s a call that requires you to be on your game right away.”

Dobson recalled one delivery he made in the parking lot of his ambulance station.

“We got a knock on the door, and it was a family who’d been heading to the hospital because they were about to deliver,” said Dobson.

The baby couldn’t wait, so the father had pulled into the ambulance station parking lot.

“We literally had to do the delivery right in the parking lot,” Dobson said. “Then we transported to hospital, and it was a successful, happy, healthy delivery.”

Dobson stressed that connecting with patients is key to paramedic work.

“They’re not going to remember what skills I brought to the table or my experience, but what they’re going to remember is how I made them feel in that hour when they had to call us.”