June 3, 2012
Doors Open Ottawa: Lights, Ambulances

For our second day of Doors Open Ottawa we visited the Ottawa Citizen, the Chaudière Falls Generating Station No. 2 and the Ottawa Paramedics.


I was disappointed by the Ottawa Citizen tour, probably because it had the potential to be one of my favourite locations ever. You'll notice there are no pictures. That's because they told me "no pictures in the building". Other people took pictures without penalty, but since I specifically asked (and Elizabeth heard the question and answer) I figured I'd better not.


The other disappointment was that they were taking pictures of participants and making a front page mock-up, but we were told that our tour was starting right away and didn't have time to have this done. I figured we could do it afterwards but that's not how it worked. Yukiko and I wished that how things worked was a little more obvious. We can understand why they didn't have the presses operating (although that would be infinitely cooler), but some parts could have been staged - for instance they could have had a few papers hanging from the clips on the ceiling to show how that works.


It was still neat though, and given that the staff were likely all still reeling from layoff announcements earlier in the week I think they did a good job. I was interested to learn that the Ottawa Citizen has been around since 1845 (as the Bytown Packet). They create four aluminum plates of each page (black, red, yellow and cyan). I guess I knew that each colour is printed separately but I was picturing something more like a giant computer printer rather than separate aluminum plates for each somehow. They do recycle the aluminum afterwards!


Our tour guide made a point of telling us that newsprint is environmentally friendly, as it only uses forestry byproducts (wood chips and recycled newsprint). The ink is apparently soy based. That's the primary reason we don't get a newspaper ourselves - I HATE getting newspaper ink on my fingers. That's the main reason I quit delivering pennysavers back in the day...


Newsprint is delivered in huge rolls (1500 pounds each). The roll at the center is disproportionately small - really itty bitty. They have special round fork lifts and the rolls are stored on raised platforms so they don't have to lift them onto the cool little carts. All of this would be easier to show than to describe...


After the Citizen we headed out to see "where our lights come from". Number 2 is the oldest generating station in Canada. Built in 1891 (and refurbished in 2001 carefully to preserve heritage elements), it is part of three Hydro Ottawa generating stations at that location. Together they generate 18 megawatts or 2% of Ottawa's power needs. That's pretty cool! There's a 1910 ring dam up at the top protecting the Hydro Ottawa and Hydro Quebec stations.


There's not too much to the facility, but they did a good job of showing us around and answering questions. We got to see a video showing the trash rack in operation (cleaning out the river!) There was a hydro truck and a few little demos. Elizabeth LOVED the part where she got to answer questions about electricity and win prizes (they were very lenient). She did not enjoy the electrocution hazard house, mainly because the noise of electricity arcing was not appreciated.


We probably should have gone home for a nap after Sunday school followed by two Doors Open Ottawa locations, but Elizabeth was keen to go to another one so we headed to the Paramedics. Mom and Dad found this a lot more interesting than Elizabeth did. I think our tour was particularly in depth because we had a former paramedic from Florida in our group and he asked a lot of questions.


Apparently we have more than 400 paramedics in our city. By weekday afternoons there are about 50-60 ambulances on the roads with two paramedics per ambulance. Most paramedics have twelve hour shifts. They cover a 2800 km area (wow...)  The busiest day of the year by far is Canada Day, when volume triples. So you should be extra careful on Canada Day apparently. New Year's Eve and Hallowe'en are also particularly busy.


I was interested to learn that the dispatching technology is standard across Ontario. If an ambulance from Petawawa crosses into the Ottawa area, Ottawa dispatchers immediately have dispatching control over the vehicle. This is not true for Gatineau. Even though it is much closer Quebec has a different radio structure and they are unable to communicate. Suspect this is partly why emergency response on the river along the provincial boundary is still a bit tricky!


The paramedics do a lot of standardization of equipment. Bags are laid out in the same way and everything is shrinkwrapped on site so that they know whether it needs resterilization / restocking or not. Their maintenance program is also quite extensive. The stretchers apparently know how many times they go up and down and report this back. When they've lifted a certain weight or been folded / unfolded a certain number of times they get tagged for maintenance. Everything has bar codes and tags. When the tags get taken off the bags, the equipment guys know they have to recheck the contents. They also have a massive storehouse for all their supplies and medications. Apparently they order all medical supplies for the city of Ottawa!


They've just opened a new bariatrics unit with special ramps, powered winches and increased surface area on the stretchers. They are also particularly proud of their stair lift stretchers, since they mentioned numerous times.


Aside from special ramps and stretchers, they have a lot of different kinds of vehicles. From portable emergency rooms in a bus (complete with oxygen and all kinds of monitors) to utility vehicles, to rapid response cars, to bicycles - they really have everything. The bike squad has a pretty impressive amount of equipment packed into their saddle bags, including miniature defibrillators! There's even a unit that can bring out equipment and supplies to restock ambulances in the field, complete with its own generator and lights, in case of large disaster like a plane crash. Or for Canada Day...


What they don't have is air ambulances, since that's managed at a provincial level (instead of municipal). Apparently paramedics need special training to handle providing care at an altitude. Did I mention I learned a lot on this tour?


The paramedics have their own car wash and mechanic. They used to centralize maintenance but it took two vehicles and two techs out of service. The things hanging from the ceiling are power cords. Everything has onboard computers that must be charged. The charger apparently only works if needed (trickle power?) The fleet is currently diesel, but they are switching to gas. Apparently Ford was unable to meet Californian ambulance emission standards with diesel. Interesting to know that California laws dictate our choice of fuel!


Overall I was left with the impression that the paramedics have made huge progress in streamlining their operations. They've struggled with response times in the not so distant past but when our paramedic guide insisted that they've turned a corner I believed him.


After our tour Elizabeth got to sit in an actual ambulance and watch another kid get hooked up to a heart monitor. It's safe to say that this was definitely her favourite part.

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