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

Update on wildfires in the Cariboo, Aug. 18

The latest update on wildfires, evacuation alerts and orders in the Cariboo Fire Centre

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

From the archives of the 100 Mile Free Press

38 Years Ago (1980): Dusty from logging trucks using the industrial road… Continue reading

60 years celebrated at 4-H Show and Sale in Williams Lake

‘You think of 60 years of history and that works out to about 120,000 kids…’

Animal impressions

A weekly family column for the 100 Mile Free Press

Canadians fear for relatives trapped amid flooding in Indian state of Kerala

More than 800,000people have been displaced by floods and landslides

IndyCar driver Wickens flown to hospital after scary crash

IndyCar said Wickens was awake and alert as he was taken to a hospital

Ex-BCTF president ‘undeterred’ after early release from pipeline protest jail term

Susan Lambert and Order of Canada recipient Jean Swanson released early

Fast food chains look to capitalize on vegetarian, vegan trend with new items

Seven per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians and 2.3 per cent identify as vegans

B.C. swimmer halts journey across Strait of Juan de Fuca after hypothermia sets in

Victoria MS athlete Susan Simmons swam for eight-and-a-half hours in 9 C choppy waters

‘Hard on water:’ Smoke not the only long-range effect of wildfires

The project began more than 10 years ago after southern Alberta’s 2003 Lost Creek fire

B.C. VIEWS: Genuine aboriginal rights are misused and discredited

Camp Cloud one of long line of protests falsely asserting title

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to march in Montreal’s Pride parade

Trudeau will end the day in his home riding of Papineau

Most Read