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May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
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Terry Flynn: Niagara's own everywhere man
At the ready. From left: Terry Flynn, superintendent of operations for Niagara Emergency Medical Services and paramedics, Dylan Potts and Alex Morrison. Potts and Morrison are one of three paramedic teams operating round-the-clock from the former Niagara-on-the-Lake hospital site. (Tim Taylor/Niagara Now)

The 400 highly skilled men and women of Niagara Emergency Medical Services respond to 80,000 emergency medical calls each year and perform 130,000 clinical procedures on over 50,000 patients.

It’s Niagara-on-the-Lake native, Terry Flynn, who as superintendent of Niagara EMS operations, who leads the day-to-day operations of this almost military-like campaign, in support of the regional health system.

A 55-year-old former town councillor, Flynn can trace his Niagara-on-the-Lake roots back five generations in the area.

In the ‘60s, the Flynns lived across the street from Morgan’s Funeral Home on Regent Street. Flynn’s father was a “jack of all trades” — customs agent, volunteer firefighter and part-time funeral home employee.

As a kid, Terry would help out at the funeral home, washing the limousines and other odd jobs. “I think we were more trouble than we were worth,” he says.

So, it was natural after high school to gravitate to a co-op program in the funeral home business.

It didn’t work out. “I hated it. I was OK with the front of house, but just couldn’t get into the back of house stuff.”

Flynn started his paramedic career at the age of 19 in the small one-ambulance site next to the former town hospital off Queen’s Parade and Wellington Street.

He was a house manager at the Shaw Festival and took two shifts a week in what was then called the Niagara-on-the-Lake Ambulance Site, just across the street.

“I had an ambulance uniform behind my door in the theatre. After I locked the theatre up, I went across the street to be on-call.”

The rest is history. Flynn went to Niagara College to complete his paramedic’s credential and joined what was to become Niagara Emergency Medical Services, a function of the Niagara Region health system.

Flynn describes his early days as a paramedic as simple ambulance driving. “We were just ‘load and go,’ “ he smiles, a little nostalgically. “Paramedics were generally not allowed to undertake lifesaving measures.”

Over his career, Flynn has been a part of the comprehensive, ongoing transformation of Niagara’s paramedic services.

“Now we have the technology and the training to save more lives. The first steps were the defibrillator and the cardiac monitor. It started to evolve from there and moved into simple medications. And then with specialized training, we got into chest compressions, intubations and so on.”

Today, paramedics are a complete extension of the hospital emergency room. “Technically, today’s emergency medical services is the emergency room coming to you,” says Flynn.

Flynn wants to emphasize the role of emergency dispatchers in this evolution. “Now with better training, experienced dispatchers and more specialized units, we can take more time on a call — as the unit is proceeding to the scene — to ascertain the best course of action. The ER is not always the best solution.”

Flynn’s paramedic team of 400 cover 2.4 million kilometres a year in 41 ambulances, centred in 17 stations. Each vehicle now carries over 750 medical supplies.

Keeping the right resources in the right place at the right time is an all-consuming process.

But when Flynn has some spare time — he admits that’s not often — he spends most of it volunteering. “Oh, I’m getting into gardening. And I want to travel more. But it really is about working for the community.”

Flynn is a local volunteer firefighter, keeping his firefighter’s kit in his trunk, at all times.

He recalls, as a young boy of eight, beating his firefighter-father to the family station wagon in the middle of the night when the general alarm sounded, only to be told to go back to bed: “You’re too young to go to a fire!”

In 2011, Flynn was chair of the NOTL library board, for both the community debate about the new building and for the construction and opening. “There was quite a pushback in the community against the new library. But I believe we made the right choice at the end of the day.”

Flynn’s highest-profile community effort was his 21 years as a town councilor (1997-2018), including three terms as deputy lord mayor.

He remembers his tenure as a time that big developers began looking for opportunities around town.

“When I first started on council we were dealing with (developers) who were more local and had a local flavour. Everyone knew them. We could work and negotiate with the developers.

“We were able to have sensitive development.”

Flynn says those days are gone.

“Now these large developers just bring in their lawyers and say, ‘Fine, take us to the Ontario Municipal Board.’ “

Flynn believes we should return control to the local political arena, instead of having so many rules and regulations coming from the province.

“Let us create our own approach,” he says. “Municipal councillors are smart enough to know their community.”

Flynn’s favourite role on council was chair of the facilities committee. Over the years, as chair, he helped orchestrate a new town swimming pool, new tennis courts, baseball diamonds, the community centre, the library and the firehalls.

“In my mind we were doing well with tourism, so I’ve always wanted to make sure the locals are taken care of.”

It’s not hard to tell that Flynn is boiling to get back into the political arena. He’s coy about what position he will seek. But there’s little doubt he intends to put his commitment to his community back to work again.