Tim Hortons denies asthmatic teen access to phone to call 911

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

Does Tim Hortons have a policy problem, or was is a simple misunderstanding that left a teenage boy suffering from asthma in a London, Ont., coffee shop out in the cold?

The London Free Press reports that the Canadian coffee chain will review its policies after an unnamed teenager suffering from an asthma attack was told he could not use the store phone to call an ambulance.

Customer Kali Sproat said she was in line at the Tim Hortons over the weekend when the boy entered the store gasping for breath. She told radio station AM980 that the teen was ignored for a while before an employee finally asked what he wanted.

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"He was visibly having a hard time breathing, gasping for air,” Sproat told the local radio station. “All he said was 'phone' and 'help' and she said, 'no, the phone isn't for customer use; there's a payphone across the street at the variety store'."

Sproat lent the teen her phone and waited with him until an ambulance arrived. She claimed that even after the incident, the franchise owner seemed "less than concerned."

But that is not exactly how Tim Hortons says the incident played out. Spokesperson Michelle Robichaud told the Canadian Press the teen did ask to use the phone but did not indicate he was in distress. She said an employee sought out a manager, but the young man had already found a phone to call for an ambulance.

A reply to a complaint posted on Tim Hortons’ Facebook page reads:

The safety and well-being of our guests is always of utmost importance to us. We have investigated this concern and we appreciate that this gentleman received the care that he needed. We will use this as an opportunity to remind our Team Members of our emergency protocol.

There is no way to know exactly what happened, but it comes down to a matter of fractions in interpreting whether Tim Hortons employees reacted too slowly or not at all to a person in distress.

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But here’s the thing. What do we really expect from a fast food chain? Not every Tim Hortons employee is going to be a dancing, happy company ambassador.

Some of them will not be able to react appropriately in the face of emergency, or care to react properly. The hope can only be that Tim Hortons really does look into the incident, for its own sake.

Hopefully next time, employees will ask why a breathless patron might need the phone, rather than react dismissively, or with mouths agape.