Every minute counts in an emergency response. When you have two crashes, 300 feet apart, and multiple people requiring extraction, the timing is even more crucial.
“When we get a call that goes over 20 minutes, the stress level goes right through the roof because now the clock’s ticking,” said Mike Savage, chief of the Blackpool Fire Hall, which houses the Clearwater & District Road Rescue. “If you don’t have somebody to the hospital for a trauma centre within an hour, their chance of survival has gone down dramatically.
“For us, being able to get there (and) get them out in a timely manner is huge.”
He knows first-hand about this. On Jan. 10, the CDRR was called out to an incident near the town of Vavenby on Highway 5, where two SUVs had collided head-on and one had fallen into the ditch. Each vehicle carried multiple passengers and both drivers required extraction.
A hydraulic ram was used for the vehicle on the road because it is heavier, cumbersome and has cords that get in the way of extraction. An e-tool power ram, meanwhile, was sent over the embankment for the other vehicle, but after six batteries and 40 minutes of cutting, the rescue team had to finish the job with the heavy, hydraulic ram.
What they needed, and didn’t have, was an inverter that would direct power from a generator on the truck to the e-tool. Luckily they were able to extract the drivers, airlifting a 24-year-old male from Alberta to hospital in Kamloops by air. But after the incident, the team ordered the inverters, which cost $1,000.
Having the right equipment and training for highway rescue has long plagued the CDRR, which relies on grants-in-aid ($9,500 per year), fundraising (including a max of $25,000 from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District) and reimbursements for each task, or call, they attend.
Staying modern, and safe, becomes tough to do. The e-tools purchased replaced 30-year-old power packs, for instance, but without an inverter, tough jobs can burn out batteries. Cutting equipment must stay up-to-date to be able to tear through vehicles made of new, stronger metals.
The 12-person team responds to an average of 34 calls per year, and has responded to 12 since Jan. 1, averaging about one per week.
Savage acknowledged the cost to keep the road rescue trucks equipped is astronomical, noting it becomes difficult to do their jobs when they’re scraping by with the equipment and funding they currently have.
The team would like an interstate vehicle stabilization kit, designed to stabilize multiple heavy-duty vehicles, for each truck, but at $28,000 a pop, the funding could be tough to secure. Add to that the power rams that are about $10,000 each, and the descenders and ropes needed to rappel at about $5,400, and the equipment becomes out of reach.
In addition to that, eight team members require technical rope training, which will cost around $6,000, and that is just so the CDRR can stay compliant with provincial requirements.
“That’s just to bring us up to where we’re comfortable with everything we’ve got,” said Savage. “Want and need? These are needs.”
Savage said the situation has been compounded by the pandemic, which requires additional measures when the rescue team returns from a call. All personal protective equipment (PPE) now has to be disinfected and cleaned, as well as the truck and all equipment, including hoses, rams and tools.
EMBC reimburses the CDRR for tasks it is called out on, paying $346 per hour the team is out on a call. When it comes to COVID-19 cleaning protocols, the CDRR is reimbursed $86.50 for 15 minutes of clean-up, even if it takes longer than the allotted time. The clean-up after the Jan. 10 collision took the team an hour and a half to complete.
Carol Schaffer, director of Area A, called on the TNRD board of directors last week to consider shifting some of the money used for search and rescue to road rescue instead. She told the board the CDRR has experienced unexpected costs due to COVID-19, and there are concerns about the age of some of the equipment, as well as damage from previous callouts.
“We need to support them for their safety and the public’s safety,” she noted.
The TNRD passed a motion to review the bylaw that funds search and rescue to see if extra funds that aren’t being used could go to road rescue. However, a decision won’t be made until a response is received from the provincial government, which is in the midst of conducting a review of its emergency management plans.
The TNRD has put a feasibility analysis on hold for about a year, during which time they expect a response from the province.
The Times reached out to both the Ministry of Transportation and Emergency Management B.C., requesting a time frame for the review. A response from the ministry was not received by press time, but EMBC did respond.
EMBC did not provide a timeline for a potential decision, but noted it is working with the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC on ways “to enhance the governance framework for road rescue.” It added the work is ongoing and they “will communicate any changes once decisions are made.”