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Work to put time stamp on roadside memorials moving slow

Chief paramedic says he plans to continue to fight for the initiative
Cochrane is looking into putting a timestamp on roadside memorials.

Work to put a timestamp on roadside memorials is moving slow, says the region's top paramedic.

The idea of limiting roadside memorials was first brought up at a Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board (CDSSAB) meeting in September when the chief paramedic Jean Carriere talked about the mental health impacts the memorials can have on first responders. The proposal supports allowing the memorials but asks for a limit on how long they can be up.

Since then, Carriere said not much progress has been made.

“Smooth Rock Falls was the first to bring it forward and they did not vote to support the issue. Hearst also had a vote and they also chose not to support it. The reasoning behind some of Smooth Rock Falls’ concerns was regarding the victims and what that would look like if they asked people to take down memorials after a certain amount of time,” he said.

“And then Hearst, some of the discussion that took place was that they don't have that issue in their community because they haven't had any memorials put up within the city limits. So, they felt that they didn't need a bylaw that would address that.”

RELATED: 'I have to relive that every time I drive by': First responders push for change

Some other arguments from municipalities were that a lot of fatalities happen on highways, which are outside their jurisdictions, Carriere said.

“So, we’re continuing to work with the government, with the provincial government, and with members of parliament and provincial parliament in our areas to really bring this forward with the appropriate ministries so that they can also take a look at those memorials on the side of the highways,” he said.

The Town of Cochrane has been the only municipality that is seriously looking to move forward with the request.

RELATED: Should those roadside memorials be time stamped? Cochrane considering it

“They’re interested in looking at some form of this. They're also looking at assisting with some discussion with the other emergency services, such as the fire department and the police department, as well as other committees within the municipality that could support something like that to get some of their feedback,” Carriere said.

“And there's other municipalities within the district that just haven't gotten around to it yet and we'll be following up with them.”

Carriere said their goal isn’t to totally ban memorials. They want to respect individuals involved in something tragic and allow them time to mourn and heal.

“That's why the bylaw that we're asking for and we're recommending is time-limited. We're not saying that you can't put up memorials and that memorials aren’t appropriate in certain instances. We’re saying that if they could be time-limited to respect the first responders and even volunteers or a bystander who stopped to help,” he said.

Carriere said he recently heard from a victim’s family member who died in a crash and shared their concerns about roadside memorials.

“They were being followed by their spouse and their spouse stopped at the accident and witnessed that their partner had passed away. Somebody else put up a memorial in the area where the accident was — they never could figure out who put up that memorial — but that family member was commenting on some of the coverage that we've gotten in regards to roadside memorials and they were saying as this person's partner, I was traumatized every time I drove by and saw that memorial,” he said.

“She didn't have the heart to stop and take down that memorial, but for years, she had to drive by and relive that day. So, what she was expressing is that she understood as first responders what we would be going through when we witnessed these memorials.”

Carriere said he’s also received emails of support from retired paramedics thanking him for his efforts regarding the initiative.

“When we're talking 15 to 20 years later and there's a memorial still up, there are alternative places for them, and I think we can work with municipalities to make sure that we have opportunity for family members and loved ones and friends to be able to memorialize somebody, but in a way that is not necessarily at the scene of where the incident happened,” he said.

RELATED: Memorial park an option to roadside markers: Chief paramedic

Carriere, along with a lot of his staff, suffers from PTSD, he said.

“There's a memorial on the side of one of our highways and I have to drive by that highway if I want to leave Timmins — there's only three highways that leave Timmins — and I am reminded of this accident that I went to every single time that I drive by. If there wasn't a memorial or something on the side of the roadway to remind me, it would just be another part of the roadway so I don't have to relive the experience that I had; the stresses, the trauma, the anxieties. If the memorial wasn't there, I would cope better with my PTSD in that instance, for example,” he said.

As a result of mental health injuries, Carriere said he’s lost 10 per cent of his staff.

“When they leave work with a mental health injury, the majority of the time they’re not coming back. Most people join this profession because they want to help people and by them helping, we're then injured, unfortunately, to the point where some people can't keep working,” he said.

Carriere said they’re in a significant staffing crunch.

“Like, I can't lose anybody. We have no staff. The colleges only graduate about 700 paramedics a year, we need about 1,200 a year in Ontario. In the last year, in Northern Ontario, we needed 200 paramedics and we were only able to hire 99,” he said.

“Right now I could hire 40 paramedics just in the Cochrane district. That's how short we are to have a fully functional program and have the ability to expand and being able to give people their vacation and their time off. So if we're losing 10 per cent of that, and we're already short in recruitment, that just compounds the issues for those staff.”

Carriere said he plans to continue to fight for the initiative of limiting roadside memorials.

“This is something that I truly believe in that I'm more than happy to champion for the paramedics, the firefighters, the police officers, and anybody who's ever responded to an incident,” he said.

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marissa Lentz covers civic issues along the Highway 11 corridor under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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