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

Burn prohibition expanding in Kamloops Fire Centre

Starting noon Friday, June 22 any open burns bigger than a campfire… Continue reading

115 new wildfires burning across B.C. due to 19,000 lightning strikes

More fires expected to start today, says BC Wildfire Service officials

Clearwater’s Dutch Lake doesn’t need another park

Editor, The Times: Re: Keith McNeil’s June 14th article “Dutch Lake Property… Continue reading

Bringing stock car racing back to Clearwater

Some local racing enthusiasts want to revive the home town dirt track

‘Daddy bonus’ common in B.C. workplaces, study finds

UBC researchers say dads don’t have to be number one in the office to get a raise

VIDEO: B.C.’s ‘unicycle cowboy’ aspires to be rancher one day

Burklan Johnson has only ridden a horse once, but this unicyclist has big plans to become a cowboy.

Fake cops ‘arrest’ woman, steal $6,000 in latest CRA scam

Vancouver police urge people not take calls from anyone saying they’re from the Canada Revenue Agency

Study shows increase in mountain bike tourism in B.C.

Numbers are up, way up, for bike-related visits to the province

Revenue Canada scam swindles $3,000 from B.C. resident

Victim provides fraudster with $3,000 in iTunes gift cards

Smithers RCMP commander Rob Mitchell gets promotion

As of June 15 Mitchell is the District Advisory NCO (DANCO) for the Kitimat/Stikine region.

UPDATED: Crown appeals B.C. polygamous leader’s acquittal in child bride case

James Oler had been charged with taking his underage daughter to the U.S. to marry her off

Housing would cut number of B.C.’s vulnerable re-admitted to hospital: study

New SFU work shows just how costly frequent hospitalization is to the province’s health care system

Disney production filming at Government House on Vancouver Island

Made-for-TV movie will feature the inside of the Victoria mansion

Most Read