As a paramedic and volunteer with Central Cariboo Search and Rescue, Deb Bortolussi has found her calling.
“I really love people,” the 25-year-old said a few hours before going on her second night shift in a row for BC Emergency Health Services. “I think if you want to be a paramedic you have to.”
Born and raised in Williams Lake, she has two older brothers - Jesse and Daine.
Her parents are Twyla Bortolussi and Louie Bortolussi, plus she has a stepfather Kevin Wray.
Bortolussi was a Grade 4 student at Poplar Glade Elementary School when it burned down, an event she vividly remembers.
She remembers going into the school with some other students after lunch to speak with their teacher about an assignment.
The lights were flickering a bit, as they had been off and on that week, and the students were joking about it.
Suddenly everyone was evacuated onto the field because a fire had started in the electrical system under the gymnasium, she said.
“All of a sudden black smoke was coming up from the school,” she recalled. “They brought us all over to the gymnasium at Columneetza and we had to wait for our parents came to get us. By that evening I remember when we drove by the school to go home and it was all up in flames.”
Bortolussi and the other Poplar Glade students remained at Marie Sharpe for the rest of their elementary years.
For high school she attended Williams Lake Secondary School, where she played rugby.
When she graduated in 2015 she knew she wanted go into the medical field but did not know exactly in what way.
Hired as a medic to work for Sugar Cane Development Corporation in 2017, she started to get her toes wet, she said.
Around the same time some friends of hers were volunteering for Central Cariboo Search and Rescue (CCSAR) and she was inspired to join, just as she turned 19.
She became part of the auto-ex and land-sar teams and fell in love with CCSAR and with volunteering.
It was through the experience with search and rescue and seeing paramedics responding to calls that she gravitated toward pre-hospital care.
In 2019 she enrolled at the Justice Institute in Kelowna to train as a primary care paramedic.
She continued to working for Sugar Cane as a medic until her licensing was completed and was hired hired to work for BC Emergency Health Services in 2020.
By fall of 2022, some new full-time positions were added to the Williams Lake detachment and she got one of them.
“We have three ambulances in the day and two ambulances at night now,” she said.
Working with other agencies on medical calls is something she appreciates, including seeing her CCSAR team in action when she is on paramedic duty.
“We also have a great relationship with the fire department, hospital and police,” she added.
For three years she has been doing public relations for CCSAR and only does land SAR now due to time restraints.
When she is not working, she loves to do anything outside with her partner, Noah Purdy.
She values time spent with friends and family, going camping, hiking and being on a lake.
“I think if you are someone who can self entertain and loves the outdoors you will never have a problem in Williams Lake.”
At home she and Noah have a continuum on the fridge with colours ranging from green to red so they can plot what kind of a day it has been.
Green means a great day with lots of energy and red is a heavy day and you might need help.
It’s all about honest communication with herself and with others, about protecting her own peace and realizing her capacity on a given day, she explained.
Therapy, she added, is a wonderful resource and something she always recommends.
She counts herself lucky with search and rescue because when she started mandatory debriefs, known as critical incident stress management, were already in place.
The process helped her learn what is normal, what are the beginning signs of PTSD, to notice how she deals with grief and the weight of some of the calls they attend.
Grateful to CCSAR team members who gave her great insight and taught her about boundaries, she described them as amazing.
“One of the best things that was ever said to me, was: ‘This it not our emergency, but we are there to do our best by this person, to be as respectful, be ask kind, to do the most so if that was your family member you can come out of it knowing you did the best for that person and you can allow that peace to carry you through.’”