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Ontario paramedics star in Swiss reality TV show

Alison Shorey and Harris Lemon of Frontenac Paramedic Services film with the Swiss show Job Swap at the service's Palace Road station in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Steph Crosier/The Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network
Alison Shorey and Harris Lemon of Frontenac Paramedic Services film with the Swiss show Job Swap at the service's Palace Road station in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Steph Crosier/The Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

Frontenac Paramedic Services paramedics are hitting the small screen this fall after they were chosen to star in a Swiss reality television show called Job Swap.

When Chief Paul Charbonneau learned his service had been cast in the show he was thrilled.

“They’ve never been to Canada and they’ve never done a paramedics swap,” Charbonneau said of the Swiss show. “They picked several services and we won.”

Job Swap is a show in which individuals in Switzerland are chosen to switch positions with their counterparts from other countries around the world. Hairdressers have travelled to Kenya, firefighters to St. Louis, and this time the show was looking for a Canadian paramedic service to be involved. This week, two local paramedics, Alison Shorey and Harris Lemon, left for Switzerland while two Swiss paramedics were on their way to Kingston.

While in Kingston, the visitors will undergo a skills assessment test and then work a shift alongside a local crew made up of Andrea Haggart and Eric Lepp, under the supervision of their “job boss” Supt. Jeff Burgess. They’ll also tour the area and take in Kingston’s best tourist attractions.

Charbonneau said Frontenac Paramedic Services was chosen because when producers went searching for a service with a strong social media presence, his service was the first to pop up. He gave communications officer Marco Smits credit for building up the Twitter and Facebook followings.

It may be for entertainment, but Charbonneau said it’s more than that.

“It’s a cultural exchange, it’s an opportunity to see how we do things differently than they do,” he explained. “I’ll find it interesting when the crew comes back and we talk because I’ve talked to EMS chiefs all over the world and we all have the same problems and we all have the same challenges in helping our paramedics do what they do best: helping people.”

Charbonneau wasn’t saying who they beat out, but noted a service a couple of counties away was also in the running.

Once Frontenac Paramedic Services was chosen, the call for local paramedics to travel to Switzerland went out. There were 19 applicants and that number was whittled down to eight, who sent a one-minute audition tape and then went through a Skype interview with producers.

“Who is going to turn down the chance at going to Switzerland with my job? It was a no-brainer (to apply),” Lemon said.

After a day of shooting Shorey and Harris at work in Kingston, on Wednesday evening the show shot scenes in which Lemon and Shorey were leaving for the airport. Their friends, families and colleagues were all asked to attend to be part of the send-off crew.

“This is an amazing, amazing opportunity,” Shorey said prior to the taping. “What is really neat about it is that I’m taking my work and going there and I feel like I’m not just a tourist, I’m an ambassador representing Frontenac County, Kingston and Canada.”

A fun aspect of the show is that the Swiss paramedics won’t know their destination until they get to the airport. They will open an envelope with the German words “Job Tausch” on it, and it reveals the flag of the country they will be visiting.

Burgess will not only be supervising them during their shift, but the visitors will also be staying at his home for two nights. He, of course, has expectations for his new, temporary employees.

“I hope they have the same enthusiasm as our crew heading over there,” Burgess said. “I assume that they will because just to be a part of this (show), you have to want to be doing it. I hope to get a cultural experience myself about the life they lead over in Switzerland, but also about the life they lead as a Swiss paramedic.”

Lemon said that working in front of the cameras has been interesting and a little nerve-wracking.

“It’s not that (the cameras) are distracting, but you’re definitely aware that they are there,” Lemon said. “We don’t let it distract us from patient care in any way, but it’s hard to avoid the big white light right next to your head.”

Lemon has been with Frontenac Paramedics for three years and Shorey has been with the service for 18. She said her experience should be her strong suit.

“The reality is sick people are the same all over the world,” Shorey said. “There are going to be people with shortness of breath, chest pains, broken arms and sore bellies in Switzerland, just as there are here.”

For both, working with other languages will be a challenge. While Switzerland’s national languages are German, French, Italian and Romansh, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation reports that a significant amount of the population speaks English and the country’s Federal Statistical Office states that 5.4 per cent of the population listed English as their main language.

“Here we have language barriers with some patients, but for Alison and me it’s going to be regular basis over there. That is going to be tough,” Lemon said. “We also have no idea where we’re going. We don’t know the demographics of the people, which affects health.”

Aside from working with the Swiss department, both are looking forward to being tourists, too.

“Just being there and experiencing that culture,” Shorey said, then added with a laugh: “Tasting Swiss food, cheese and chocolate. I’m going to have to leave room in my suitcase for everything I bring back.”

Lemon and Shorey return to Kingston next week and the episode should air in Switzerland and can be found online sometime in the fall.

scrosier@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StephattheWhig


Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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