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Paul Linza: Emergency responder

Paul Linza has years of experience as a firefighter, paramedic and 9-1-1 fire dispatch.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Paul Linza has years of experience as a firefighter, paramedic and 9-1-1 fire dispatch.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

For most of us, dialing 911 is not something that we ever look forward to doing. However, if necessity strikes and we are forced to call, our hope is that the person on the other end is knowledgeable, resourceful and able to get us through a potentially trying experience, in as calmly a manner as possible. For 20 years, Paul Linza was one of those people, and he enjoyed his dispatch career thoroughly.

Paul grew up in a humble and modest home in Hope, the eldest child of Italian immigrants who came to the area in the 1950s.  Although he was born in Canada, Italian was the first language that he learned, so his primary years in school were a bit challenging. “We weren’t rich but we never did without. We didn’t have a Cadillac but we did own a car, if you know what I mean,” he said with a smile.

After arriving in Canada, Paul’s father was hired by CP Rail, where he worked for the majority of his career. “After leaving the railroad, dad worked in the service industry for awhile and then he opened up his own janitor business,” he said.

Photography was one of Paul’s main interests and he was also heavily involved in school sports and band. “I had really good photography equipment and even did some weddings. In band, I played the trumpet and every year we travelled somewhere spectacular. I’ll never forget that,” he enthused.

With graduation on the horizon, there were no shortage of construction jobs and Paul, who had been working for the Hope School District’s maintenance department in the summer, was looking forward to getting into that industry. “I was going to go to Fraser Valley College because the way I looked at it, I was going to make millions in construction,” he laughed. By the time that he actually graduated, the industry had hit rock bottom and the college sent him a letter indicating that the construction course was being cancelled. “I understood why it was happening but it was disappointing.”

For a year, Paul worked at various jobs before landing full time employment with the School Board in Boston Bar. “The fellow who did their maintenance and custodial work retired, so I got his job. I was there for five years and then transferred to Hope, where I worked for the next 10 years. I was their head custodian, their head painter, I did lawn maintenance. Let’s put it this way, I did just about everything,” he said with a chuckle.

During this time, he got to know a city worker and one evening, he was invited over for supper. “I noticed that there were first aid books and pamphlets on a table. The next time I went over, I noticed an ambulance uniform hanging in the closet. My friend asked me if I had my first aid ticket because he got a part-time job with the ambulance service and they were always looking for qualified people,” he explained.

Long story short, Paul ended up getting a job as a paramedic. He slept with his clothes on the night that he started his career, just so that he was ready to go on a moments notice. “My first day on the job, I had to drive the ambulance with my lights flashing and sirens blaring. I was hooked and have been a paramedic for the last 32 years!” he said enthusiastically.

In the early 80s, Fraser Valley College was looking to offer a CPR course but they didn’t have enough dolls to use as part of the training. Knowing the need, Paul approached local service clubs and raised $20,000 to purchase the equipment. He became one of the College’s lead CPR instructors, something that he’s been doing since that time. He was also a radio personality of sorts. “When I was up in Hope, Tom DeSorcy and I used to  co-host a show about coffee on the local radio station. We did this for a long time and had a lot of fun with it,” he said.

Paul became quickly enamored with the emergency world and at around this same time, he became fixated on the television show, Emergency. The show was centered on a crew from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Station 51, particularly the paramedic team and Rampart Hospital, as they responded to emergencies in their operating area. “Then one day, a city councillor told me that we were getting 911 service and that I’d be qualified to work in that area. He told me to keep my eyes out for an ad. Several months went by and there it was, so, after thinking about it long and hard, I applied at the 11th hour,” he said.

The call came just before Christmas 1991. Paul found out that he had been hired and started his training as an Enhanced 911 fire dispatcher in early 1992. The system is quite involved but in the end, it’s designed to assist the public easily and seamlessly. Special computer software is used to associate a location with the origin of the call. This location may be a physical address or other geographic reference information which will enable a quicker response during fires, break-ins or other emergencies where communicating one’s location is difficult or impossible. “Our E911 service is technically state of the art. Every six months, in the first four years, we were doubling our computer capacity. Ever since we started, we’ve had the latest and best equipment which is very positive all the way around,” he said.

As if Paul wasn’t busy enough, but ever the go-getter, he became a volunteer firefighter; starting his career at Hall 6 and also became a First Responder instructor for the fire department as well as taking on the task of training newly hired fire dispatchers.

After 20 years on the job, having taken thousands and thousands of emergency phone calls, Paul decided to retire from his 911 position at the end of October but continues to work part-time as a paramedic. Both jobs can be intense and at times stressful. “As a paramedic, training is constant and on-going. Your marks are either pass or fail; there’s not in between. You have to be very dedicated,” he concluded.

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