Community feels 'not protected' after paramedics refuse trip to fatal accident

A Dalhousie town councillor and firefighter says Ambulance New Brunswick failed his community after two paramedics refused to go to the scene of a snowmobile accident where a man eventually died.

At council Tuesday night, Kevin Lavigne said he's concerned about the level of service at his rural community.

"I feel that we are not protected," he said.

Ambulance New Brunswick says the paramedics did nothing wrong. They responded to what they thought was a regular call but which ended up being a "remote call" at a trail and required equipment they didn't have on hand. 

Ambulance service spokesperson Chisholm Pothier said the paramedics didn't have the winter gear needed because it's part of the security kit that's "so big it only gets transported, in another vehicle, when the ambulance is specifically called to a remote rescue call."

When paramedics 'cannot proceed'

On Jan. 17, Lavigne, who was on duty at the Dalhousie Fire Department, said he took a 911 call at around 5 p.m. about a man possibly dead on arrival on one of the trails in town. He said two firefighters were dispatched, and were at the trail within five minutes. 

The ambulance wasn't there when they arrived, he said, so the two firefighters, clad in jackets and "office clothes" in –30 C, took to the trail on foot. They began CPR on 22-year-old Logan Timothy Harvey, whose snowmobile had exploded, as soon as they arrived.

Submitted by Karen St. Onge

When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, Lavigne said, the two paramedics refused to go on the trail. They said policy prevented them from doing so, because they didn't have winter clothing and did not feel safe getting on a snowmobile for the one-kilometre ride to the scene of the accident.

In a statement, Jean-Pierre Savoie, vice-president of operations for Ambulance New Brunswick, said the paramedics must "act in a way that is helpful for everyone on scene, not just the victim."

"Not acting safely has the potential to create more patients," he said.

"If it's clear the medics and appropriate equipment cannot be safely carried to the scene because of the state of the vehicle and/or the state of the driver, then they cannot proceed."

What makes a 'remote call'

Pothier said the ambulance was initially told the patient was injured by a belt coming off a snowmobile. Pothier said that's why police and fire weren't called. 

The person who called 911 said the paramedics would not need special equipment, because the scene was only minutes from the end of the street.

But when paramedics reached the trail between Montgomery and Cameron Street, they realized it was a "remote call," Pothier said.

Any rescue that can't be seen from the ambulance or can't be reached safely on foot can be considered a remote rescue, he said.

Submitted by Marc Giroux

He said every remote rescue is different, but paramedics would need specialized equipment such as heavy-duty winter clothing and safety equipment such as ropes, helmets and flashlights. They would also need a means of transportation to the scene and a way to extract the patient.

When paramedics realized they didn't have the winter clothing and transportation they needed, they called the RCMP to help them.

He said some bystanders found a rescue sled from a local snowmobile club, but "the RCMP were unable to obtain this equipment in a timely manner."

Lavigne said people in his rural community spend a lot of time on trails and snowmobiles and shouldn't feel as if they can't get help if they get injured.

"If anybody gets hurt in our trails or wooded area around the town of Dalhousie, it sounds like you [have got to] find your own way onto the road before Ambulance New Brunswick will help you," he said in an interview.

A 'vibrant' young man

Lavigne, who's also a former paramedic, said firefighters who begin CPR have to be relieved by the paramedics or someone with higher authority. At the crash site, three firefighters took turns doing CPR for 45 minutes, until he arrived and saw that it was too late to save Harvey.

"It was a bad scene," he said. "When I got at the scene I realized this young fella had passed away. There was nothing we can do for him."

He said it might have already been too late when the firefighters arrived as well, but he still thinks the paramedics should have tried.

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"When I was driving ambulance this would have never happened, never," he said. 

Harvey's mother, Karen St. Onge, said she's disappointed with how ANB "handled, or should I say not handled, their jobs as paramedics."

"The Dalhousie fire department took over that evening and did anything and everything possible to try to save my son's life. Bravo to those brave firefighters," she said.

"Ambulance NB, as a parent and citizen of N.B., I am totally [disgusted] with your services."

She said her son Logan was a "vibrant" 22-year-old who was well-known in the community.

"He loved life to the fullest," she said. "Logan will be sadly missed by all who knew this young man."

Submitted by Karen St. Onge

Lavigne said he doesn't blame the individual paramedics, but he wonders why the paramedics felt so constrained by the policy, and why they didn't have their equipment when they responded.

"The whole point of this is Ambulance New Brunswick did arrive, but they refused to come up to see this patient," he said.

Andrew McLean, the president of the paramedics union, said he can't comment on this specific call because he doesn't know what happened. But in general, paramedics respond to situations "at their own discretion," and it depends on how safe they feel.

"It's all about our safety as well as the public's," he said.

He said there's no set standard that says a paramedic has to go into the woods or on a snowmobile to get somewhere.

"We have a lot of paramedics that are also volunteer firemen as well," he said. "So there's a lot of us that are cross-trained, but not everybody is."

In an off-road-rescue situation, he said paramedics would have a centralized location where the patients are brought to them, and they'll take over the patients from then on.

"If we're not prepared for the elements, we're not going to be able to be any good even if we do get in there," he said.