Friday, May 16, 2008

Timmins' response worked for Foleyet

Emergency planners and public health officials have given a solid thumbs up to the way the Foleyet emergency was handled one week ago today.
Had the incident been more serious, the response by the personnel from Timmins would have “prevented a catastrophy”, especially if the train continued southbound.
That’s the conclusion of a two-hour debriefing exercise held at the Timmins Police community boardroom Thursday to examine how well the various emergency services responded.
An eastbound VIA Rail passenger train was stopped and quarantined at the Foleyet train station last Friday morning when it was learned that a woman passenger had died aboard that train.
The decision to isolate the train came when it was suspected the woman may have died of an infectious disease and that other passengers on the train may have been in danger as well. As it turned out, a 43-year old woman from South Africa died of an embolism and no other passengers were in danger.
The incident prompted a massive response in terms of police, paramedics, firefighters, Hazmat teams and public health officials rushing to the scene from Foleyet, Chapleau, Timmins, Sudbury and Toronto.
If there was one downside to the event, it was the obvious need “to improve and enhance communications” according to Steve Trinier, the Emergency Medical Services Director for the Cochrane District Social Services Administration Board(CDSSAB).
“I think the reality is that certainly in rural and remote areas, the communications systems aren’t there,” Trinier told The Timmins Times.
“There are not phones behind every tree.”
Trinier said his paramedics were in constant communications with each other and their Timmins base, but not everyone else was in the loop.
“So certainly things like providing a number of satellite phones in remote areas in anticipation of those sorts of events will certainly aid the process. He added it may be worthwhile to consider having a common radio frequency for all Northern Ontario police, fire and paramedic services.
Lynn Leggatt, the Manager of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Services at the Porcupine Health Unit said she was pleased with the response from public health.
“We felt very prepared when we got to the scene,” she said adding that because there was planning for a flu pandemic, the health unit had boxes and bins full of medical supplies ready to go.
“We just basically grabbed our bins, did a final check and we were off on our way,” she said.
Porcupine Health Unit workers provided back up support to workers from the Sudbury Health Unit, dispatched from Chapleau. Although Foleyet is closer to Timmins, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Sudbury Health Unit because of geographical territories. Regardless, Leggatt says pandemic training paid off for her staff.
“We’ve done a lot of work with pandemic planning since SARS, so it was kind of neat to be able to use what we had put in place for that.”
Trinier says nothing ever works perfectly, but he is pleased overall with the way the Foleyet emergency was handled by all the agencies involved.
“I think we’re very satisfied with how the incident progressed. There was early recognition of the event and the potential risks to public safety,” he said.
Trinier had praise for the clear thinking of the railroad company staff and the first paramedics and police officers on the scene.
“Most definitely, had it been a serious, or infectious or communicable disease problem, the early recognition by the VIA rail staff and the response by the EMS and the OPP to secure the scene, could have prevented a major catastrophy in a more urban setting should that train have been allowed continue southbound,” he said.

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