Emergency response ‘well executed’ in B.C. carbon monoxide poisoning

Emergency Health Services talks about how first responders dealt with this ‘mass casualty event’

More than a dozen ambulances raced to a Delta farm this weekend, as B.C. Emergency Health Services responded to one of their biggest calls of the year in the region.

It’s what the agency calls a “mass casualty event,” with dozens of potential victims, some in serious to critical condition. More than 40 people were taken to hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning after they’d been power-washing a greenhouse.

Despite the confusion at the start as to what exactly happened, the response was “very, very well executed,” BCEHS executive vice president Linda Lupini told Black Press.

“The call came in … as symptoms that the patients thought were related to cleaning fluids: itchy, stinging eyes, dizziness and not feeling well generally.”

READ: Ambulances added, paramedic house calls expanding

The 911 dispatcher ran the caller through a series of questions prompted by the medical dispatch priority system, a computer program that tells dispatchers what questions to ask based on the answers they input.

“They’re trained to use a system because human judgment in those situations is important, but in a secondary way,” said Lupini. “This computer system is better than most individuals.”

Dispatchers still have access to about 30 on-call doctors around B.C., as well as an advanced care paramedic sitting in on the call.

‘Well executed response’

In a press release issued by the company on Dec. 10, Windset farms said workers were disinfecting the greenhouse with gas-powered pressure washers in preparation for the new crop, something that happens annually at this time of the year and which the company says is considered standard practice in the industry.

When the first employee reported a feeling of being unwell, the on-site health and safety team took immediate steps to evacuation of the greenhouse, called for emergency support, and began triaging those most affected.

The first emergency responder sent to the Delta farm was a technical advisor who assessed the scene, Lupini said. They, as well as all other paramedics, are equipped with carbon monoxide monitors that begin to buzz when entering a contaminated area.

Thirteen ambulances were deployed. Paramedics assessed 10 patients in critical condition, and 32 in stable condition. Then, they began looking for hospitals to take the unexpected influx, as well as determining the most efficient means of transportation.

Ambulances respond to a site in northern Coquitlam to take a rescued dog walker to hospital. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

“In this case, it was clear that most of the patients weren’t severely impacted, so they were put into a bus with four paramedics, some equipment, and then paramedics following the bus,” said Lupini.

The bus delivered patients to hospitals throughout the Lower Mainland: Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian, Burnaby Hospital, Lionsgate and Vancouver General.

The most severe cases went to the closest hospitals that could treat them: Delta Hospital and Richmond General. Most hospitals can provide the oxygen needed to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, but not all have hyperbaric chambers for the follow-up appointments that the most severely affected patients will need.

“That chamber is pressurized in such a way that massive amounts of oxygen go through your system and replace the carbon monoxide in your body,” said Lupini.

Carbon monoxide poisoning prevents oxygen from circulating properly. The initial symptoms are often flu-like; nausea, headaches, light-headedness. Left untreated, the lack of oxygen will start affected organ functions which can lead to seizures and a coma.

In a press release, Windset Farms it will ensure its workers receive whatever follow up care they require over the coming days and weeks, adding it’s people and their health and safety in the workplace is the company’s top priority.

The farm will be reviewing the incident and considering what changes to its protocols are needed, as well as “working with both public and private agencies to fully understand and further strengthen our response and programs.”

“We are grateful to our site management, our health and safety officer, and our first responders for taking immediate steps to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Paramedics can fall pray to carbon monoxide poisoning too and are required to take a high-risk hazards course and come equipped with personal protective gear. The course also prepares paramedics for other hazardous substances, such as fentanyl, although Lupini said there’s been no recorded instances of that, despite widespread concern.

“The training teaches front-line paramedics not to just run into a scene and not to assume.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

New Sooke councillors face old issues and new challenges

First meeting of new council sets the stage for the future

Passenger passes out on a bus in Sooke

Man was revived and was alert and coherent

Island Corridor Foundation optimistic about restoring rail service

If green-lighted, first priority would be Langford to Victoria route

Firefighters rescue horse stuck in Saanich mud

‘It happens more often than you’d think,’ says deputy chief

Food service workers at Victoria airport protest for second time in four months

Negotiations continue to drag on with employer Compass Group Canada, VAA refuses to engage

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

Vancouver Island remembers

Important stories shared as Islanders salute those who made the greatest sacrifice

Humans reshaping evolutionary history of species around the globe: paper

University of British Columbia researcher had the paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society

Toronto ‘carding’ activist Desmond Cole stopped by police in Vancouver

Cole says his experience reveals what daily life is like for black and Indigenous residents

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

B.C. on track to record same number of overdose deaths as last year

128 people died of overdoses in September, bringing the total to more than 1,100 so far in 2018

Cowichan school district defends lack of notice to parents following elementary student arrest

Officials with School District 79 stand by their decision not to send out an alert.

Canadians more prepared for weather disaster than financial one: poll

RBC recommends people check their bank app as often as the weather app

B.C. dog owner sues after pet killed in beaver trap

A Kamloops man is suing the operator of a trapline north of the city after his dog died

Most Read