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Region sends gift of retired ambulance to Caribbean island

Dominica is grateful for the 'life changing' donation that will improve health services for citizens of the island still recovering from Hurricane Maria's devastating damage

A “retired” York Region ambulance is on its way to an island in the Caribbean to continue its crucial role in saving lives.

York Region Paramedic Services handed over the keys to the decommissioned ambulance to Caribbean North Charities Foundation, a registered Canadian charity that provides humanitarian aid and medical equipment to communities in the Caribbean so it could begin its journey to the Commonwealth of Dominica.

“The work we do touches people in every stage of their lives,” said Chris Spearen, acting chief of York Paramedic Services, at the donation ceremony Monday at the York Region Administrative Centre in Newmarket. “Sometimes we are fortunate to share our support with other communities across Canada and the world. Today is one of those days.”

Decommissioned ambulances can be donated to registered not-for-profit, community or international humanitarian organizations that offer services similar to those supported by York Region.

“This ambulance has served our York Region communities well and has been a part of many touching stories, and has helped save many lives and helped many people in need. I’m confident it will now be able to continue its story in Dominica,” he told the audience of regional staff and councillors, paramedics, members of the charity and Dominica dignitaries.

With the average life cycle of the well-maintained York Region ambulance clocking in at about five years, or 250,000 kilometres, regional council typically approves the donation of two ambulances each year, according to Spearen. Monday’s donation was the tenth since 2011.

“Ambulance donations are an important way York Region can contribute to agencies here at home and around the world. I am very proud York Region can play a small role in improving the health care of others in need,” York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson said.

Many developing countries are challenged by a lack of medications and emergency equipment, said Harry Harakh, president and CEO of Caribbean North Charities Foundation, which is based in Richmond Hill.

“This ambulance will help ensure first responders in the Commonwealth of Dominica can continue to save lives by being able to attend to and transport distressed patients from remote villages to the nearest hospital, as well as provide transfers from out-of-town hospitals to the main tertiary care hospital in the city under the supervision of an EMS professional,” Harakh said.

Residents now often have to rely on taxis to provide transportation in an emergency, he said.

“We’re going to make changes and improve people’s lives,” Harakh added, mentioning that the donation of the ambulance also provides an opportunity to train “drivers” to become paramedics.

Frances Delsol, commissioner of trade and investment for the Commonwealth of Dominica, said the “life-changing gift” comes at an opportune time for the island that faced devastating damage and destruction in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

“Your contribution of an ambulance will complement our health services and help save lives. It will give our limited resources a much-needed boost in the service of health care and it will relieve the government of Dominica whose finances were totally wiped out with the massive Hurricane Maria in 2017.”

She added that the island also suffered earlier damage as a result of Tropical Storm Erika in 2015, at the time, the deadliest and most destructive natural disaster in Dominica since Hurricane David in 1979.

“The island was showing tremendous growth and rebirth post-Erika, and in September of 2017, a category 5 hurricane totally wiped out the island and put our growth in negative numbers. The world responded. Canada responded. You responded and you are still responding today.”

Today, while schools have re-opened, and potable water and essential services have been restored, Dominica is still struggling on the road to recovery.

“We still have a long way to go but with your help, we have come a very long way and for your kind generosity today and in the past, we express our thanks and our grace,” Delsol said.

The ambulance will travel by flatbed to Miami, where it will board a ship to travel to Dominica, Harakh said.

Debora Kelly

About the Author: Debora Kelly

Debora Kelly is NewmarketToday's community editor. She is an award-winning journalist and communications professional who is passionate about building strong communities through engagement, advocacy and partnership.
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