Most people who know Deputy Chief Rob Crossan — or “Crossan” as he’s called around headquarters — know him for being a straight-shooter. Rob is seen as a balanced mix of approachable and real, always leading with an honest perspective. It’s these traits that keep him grounded and respected as a member of the Senior Leadership team at Region of Waterloo Paramedic Services.
Growing up in the Region, Rob went to college in Toronto for law enforcement but he knew early on in his studies that it wasn’t the right fit. Shifting gears, Rob went through the “ambulance program” and right out of school in 1990 was hired by KW Ambulance Service as a paramedic.
It would be 10 years into his career before KW Ambulance would be taken over by the Region of Waterloo — a change that was welcomed by Rob and many of his fellow paramedics. “It was a big victory when we switched over to the Region. Even though we didn’t know much about municipalities and governance, we felt it was the right fit for the service so we were pretty thrilled.”
Rob has been a Deputy Chief for four years — an opportunity that he never saw himself going after. His path to management started with his time as a road supervisor, a role that he still calls “the best job in the service.” Being a road supervisor gave Rob the ability to “attend calls where you can provide the necessary assistance and support to the crews. At the time we didn’t have as much administrative work as the supervisors do today so we could be out there on the road for most of the shift. I think the paramedic crews really appreciated a supervisor arriving on scene and helping them with their duties, from counselling family members at the site of a sudden death to simply helping carry a piece of equipment.”
After eight years as a Supervisor, a temporary opportunity came up in Logistics. Since it was only supposed to be a short-term experience, Rob decided to try it out. Eventually when the role became a permanent Deputy Chief position, the Chief encouraged Rob to apply and the rest is history.
Four years later, Rob sees the value of his role as a Deputy Chief but admits that he still misses the road and wishes he could get out there more often. He acknowledges that it can be difficult to find the balance with the current demands of his job.
Some of the new responsibilities that Rob has taken on as Deputy Chief include the work he does alongside community partners to raise awareness and provide education about overdose and drug use within the Region. Through Rob’s lens as a long-time paramedic he doesn’t necessarily see the rise in overdoses as being connected to a spike in new drug users. He points instead to a shift in the types of drugs that are being used. “In terms of hard drug use, in the 90’s we went through crack/cocaine. It didn’t involve paramedic calls as much because people weren’t falling over dead from use like they can from fentanyl.”
With the growing opioid issues in the Region and across the country, Rob feels that there’s room for more understanding and awareness around harm reduction approaches like needle-syringe programs and Safe Injection Sites. He also sees the need for a better understanding about drug use and the people who are impacted.
“When I do public information sessions, people have an idea of the opioid drug user — they often think it’s the guy living in the shelter or on the street. There is definitely a population of substance users who are disadvantaged in that way but often they are not the ones dying. For them there are fewer stigmas attached to their drug use so they have naloxone kits and they use together. I’m concerned about the people who are hiding their drug use from their family or employer because of the stigma — they are the ones who end up dying alone in their bathrooms.”
Rob also feels that along with harm reduction strategies, there’s always room for greater compassion and understanding, siting that the profile of many users — especially those who are using opioids — are people who have experienced unimaginable traumas. They are using opioids to try to escape.
“Harm reduction doesn’t mean we advocate drug use. We are not saying that it’s ok to use. Ultimately these are people who deserve to have a chance. When they are ready to kick the substance, they deserve to be healthy and free of other [preventable] diseases like Hep C and HIV. Letting someone become sick from needle sharing is just not an acceptable way to treat people.”
When asked what advice he has for a paramedic who might be considering a future in senior leadership, the answer is simple: “Improve yourself. When an opportunity comes up, even in another service, and even if it’s not the perfect job — I always tell people to apply. By applying you’ll see if you fall short which will give you a path to run on. Once you know the path take the courses and be educated. You’ll be ready when that dream job comes along”