Company Profile: First Nations Paramedics
In operation for 35 years now in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, First Nations Paramedics is the only Indigenous private business offering ambulance service in Quebec. Here is the inspiring story of this company that would like to share its expertise with other Indigenous communities in Quebec.
Kanesatake Emergency Medical Services is a company that was created in 1985 by Ronald and Judith Bonspiel, with the help of Clarence Simon, a former Grand Chief of the community, and his wife, Linda Simon. From 1985 to 1987, the goal of the company was only to provide medical transportation services to community members who had to travel outside the community for medical examinations. These two years of operation allowed them to see to what extent the Mohawk community was poorly served in terms of ambulance service. In fact, the ambulance was making very few trips in the community, and each time, the waiting times were very long, which could have endangered patients’ lives. In 1987, Mr. and Mrs. Bonspiel decided to offer first responder services, which they did with a vehicle on which they had installed red lights. At the time, they were responding to calls until such time the paramedics arrived, and once their training was completed, they started to respond to calls with an ambulance paid out of their own pockets.
In 1989, they hired their first employees who were college graduates which included their son, Robert. At that time, even if it was in operation, the company still didn’t have any formal permit. After several years of efforts to regularize their situation, in 1993, they were finally granted their permit which allowed them to operate solely in the Kanesatake territory. In subsequent years, this perimeter expanded with the addition of the village of Saint-Placide. Their population could also benefit from ambulance services that were much faster than those offered by a company based in Saint-Eustache. This is how they started to respond to calls from outside the community in spite of the fact that, technically, they were not allowed to do so.
Change in the Name and the Mission
In the early 2000’s, Robert Bonspiel gradually started to replace his parents at the head of the family business. To him, the company is constantly evolving. One of the first actions as head of the firm was to change its name to First Nations Paramedics | Paramédics des Premières Nations and to review its mission; these changes aimed to expand the field of action of the company. Over the years, the area covered by First Nations Paramedics extended even further with the addition of the towns of Mirabel and Saint-André-d’Argenteuil. Call volume may show seasonal variability, but on average, the company responds to about 500 calls every year.
Currently, the company employs four full-time employees and six others, on a part-time basis, including three members of the community. According to an informal survey conducted by Mr. Bonspiel some time ago, there are nine First Nations members who work in the pre-hospital care sector. As three of them are already part of his team, he therefore employs one third of the resources currently available.
Serving other Indigenous Communities
Recently, Mr. Bonspiel started to canvas other communities that are coping with a situation similar to what Kanesatake had to face in the 1980’s. As a result, it is quite clear that the majority of Indigenous communities are very poorly served in ambulance service, a situation which is deplorable in 2020. Following these approaches, he was able to get several resolutions from local governments authorizing him to negotiate with the Centres intégrés universitaires de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) of each concerned region, as well as with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. The objective of these steps is not to obtain funding from the ministry, but rather to subdivide the contracts with the communities so that the « model » developed in Kanesatake may be implemented in other communities, which is not a simple task. In addition, Mr. Bonspiel is in discussions with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education so that a college level crash course in emergency pre-hospital care or even an Attestation of College Studies may be developed and offered in the communities. This training could produce a sustainable rise in the Indigenous labour pool that is available in this activity sector.
In recent months, Mr. Bonspiel has undertaken specific steps that would enable him to construct a new building for his company which is currently operating from the basement of his parents’ house. This facility, which would include a garage, would be appropriate for meeting the current and future needs of the enterprise, in addition to projecting an even more professional image. For this project, Mr. Bonspiel can rely on the help of the community’s Economic Development Officer, Mrs. Tracey Bonspiel, and her team.
The FNQLEDC wishes Mr. Bonspiel every success in the completion of all future projects of his enterprise.
To discover other local economic development projects and initiatives, we invite you to visit our local economic development section.