Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Timmins role in emergency to be examined

A debriefing exercise is to be held in Timmins tomorrow afternoon to go over the details of the Foleyet emergency, which was the focus of nationwide attention on Friday.
Even though it all took place 100 kilometres southwest of the city, Timmins played a significant role in the Foleyet emergency situation on Friday. That’s because Timmins was the nearest major community with a full range of health care services, medical laboratories, emergency response personnel and even hazardous materials specialists.
All those roles came into play Friday morning, when Ontario Provincial Police were notified that a person had died aboard the eastbound VIA Rail train, The Canadian, just minutes before the train rolled into Foleyet at about 9:00 a.m.
Police ordered the train halted until a team of crime scene officers from the OPP in South Porcupine detachment could investigate.
At the time of her death, the 43-year old woman from South Africa was being attended to by a British physician who happened to be on holiday aboard the train. The physician mentioned to train staff that other individuals in the car were not feeling well, and had flu-like symptoms.
“It would appear the discovery of this woman and the coincidental nature of the illnesses of the other passengers, the physician on board had some initial concerns that perhaps they were related,” said OPP Staff Sergeant Rob Knox during a media scrum on Friday.
That’s all it took to get the wheels in motion, literally. There was an ambulance and a team of paramedics already on station in Foleyet and they were first to respond. Next to be dispatched were EMS supervisors Jean Carriere and Luc Hurtubise of Timmins who rushed to the scene with a truckload of special first-response medical equipment and stretchers.
A Ministry of Health air ambulance helicopter was dispatched to Foleyet. It landed in the train yard, just west of the main tracks. One woman described as having “respiratory distress” was strapped onto a stretcher, loaded aboard the helicopter and rushed to Timmins and District Hospital.
Once there the patient was put in isolation and quickly examined and tested for several possible infectious diseases before being given a clean bill of health.
The ambulance dispatch centre, located in the Timmins Police community facility, also known as the com-centre, became central to all the activities.
Selena Gauthier, left, the communications Liaison and Policy officer, explains that because of the lack of normal cell phone service in Foleyet and with restrictions on landline phone service, the ambulance radio communications became even more vital.(Photo shows Selena Gauthier, left, and ambulance radio operator Amy Chartier.)
There was a Canada-wide conference call held at 2:30 Friday afternoon so that crucial decisions could be made about the future of the quarantine. The call was routed through the Timmins com-centre with the doctor aboard the train using a portable radio from a Timmins paramedic.
“Because they wanted the doctor on the train to be in the teleconference, it was routed through our communications centre,” said Selena Gauthier, the liaison and policy officer at the com-centre.
“It was quite amazing,” she added. “It’s the first time we’ve used that technology in that way.”
The Timmins Fire Department was also sent to the scene said city fire chief Mike Pintar.
“We actually got called first thing in the morning. They put us on standby. But we didn’t deploy the hazardous materials services, our HazMat group, we didn’t deploy until about 12 noon when they called us back when they knew more about what was going on,” said Pintar.
“What we were going to be used for was assistance to the paramedics and the police. We were going to use our decon (decontamination) unit. We were just there to assist,” Pintar added.
He agreed that Foleyet is well outside the Timmins municipal protection area, “but the next closest teams would be Sault Ste. Marie or North Bay. They’re provincial HazMat teams. We are not designated yet, but I think the province will be looking at that,” Pintar said, adding that he was impressed with the level of cooperation between all agencies.
“From what I saw when I was there I thought it was all done very well.”
Gauthier says she too was pleased with the way the day unfolded.
“I’m very interested in the debriefing because I would like to learn more about what we could have done, or how things could have been different, but overall given the situation that none of us experienced before, I think it went well.”

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