Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

Thompson, Manitoba, Canada, has every reason to capitalize on its reputation as a cold-weather center north of the 55th parallel.

But that’s not the only asset in a city that during the past 60 years has grown into the educational, health, commerce, and cultural hub of northern Manitoba.

A large nickel deposit discovered in 1956 affirmed Thompson’s spot on the map. Since then, the city has flourished as the place for anything outdoors—including businesses dependent on extremely cold conditions—and a secure place to raise children, have a prosperous career, and enjoy amenities associated with cities at least twice its size.

“Thompson is great,” said Holly McLeod, Senior Communication Officer, Thompson Fire and Emergency Services comm. center. “It’s probably one of very few cities in the region where you know most of the people.”

Situated in the beautiful boreal forest of northern Manitoba, lakes, woods, wildlife, and occupations relying on a colder climate have combined to develop into a city boasting low unemployment (3.4 percent in 2014), a well-above-average median family income ($68,416), cultural diversity, and enterprise for its 13,000 residents (a number that triples daily with workers from surrounding areas).

The high employment rate goes with the terrain.

The cold season—from late November through February with average daily high temperatures of minus 25 degrees (Fahrenheit)—encourages all sorts of sports, including hockey, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. The annual Thompson Winterfest features competitions for trappers, dog sled races, a celebrity bannock (flatbread) bake-off, and sponge hockey.

Cold-weather testing is a booming industry since the area’s extended winter season complements automotive, heavy equipment, and diesel engine performance analysis and studies by the Global Aviation Center for Icing and Environmental Research (GLACIER). Vale Canada Limited employs an average of 1,500 miners at its thriving 250-acre nickel operation.

McLeod was one of four dispatchers at the fire station when Thompson Fire and Emergency Services adopted the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) in 2009. She found the protocol system easier to use than expected, and now, she’d be at a loss without it.

“Before MPDS, there was no selection of a Chief Complaint,” McLeod said. “We didn’t have Key Questions. It was as basic as you can get—what is going on and address.”

Dispatchers have assisted in providing a variety of Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs). On Aug. 15, 2010, EMD Charlene Kissock gave instructions to a mother of a four-week-old baby who was choking; the story Kissock submitted was published in The Journal. They also receive wilderness-related calls, such as last summer when a group of forestry students conducting surveys in the area came in contact with a bear. They have sent rescue personnel to snowmobile drivers unfamiliar with the territory.

While every dispatcher has responded to the prevalent medical complaints —cardiac arrest, airway obstruction, and sick person—most calls involve medical transport from the airport to regional hospitals; 65 to 70 percent of their average 5,200 ambulance runs carry patients from the airport to regional hospitals and vice versa.

As Thompson is a small community, the comm. center also serves as the city’s after-hour contact. Dispatchers on the night shift handle calls involving road conditions, water breaks, and animal control. They send conservation officers to reported wildlife sightings such as wolves and coyotes.

Although emergency calls relating to cold weather complaints are part of the package, a policy approved in 2013 has helped to decrease cases of hypothermia. When temperatures plunge to minus 35 degrees (Fahrenheit), the city opens added shelters to accommodate those in need.

McLeod, who has lived in Thompson since 1994, admits the cold climate can be intimidating to newcomers.

“If you’re not from here, the weather can be very tough to get used to,” she said. “Other than that, Thompson has given me great opportunities, and it’s where I found the love of my life.”