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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Falling tree claims life in Langley

Victim was reportedly out for a walk on a rural road

Fraser Health confirms expanded COVID-19 testing services coming

Long lines, several days waiting list as demand for testing surges in region

Sunny skies ahead for Fraser Valley this week

Rain and smoke nowhere in the forecast after weeks of weather alerts

BC launches 22 new primary care networks, including one in Mission

Will be adding family physicians, a nurse practitioner and a social worker

Mission Mayor Pam Alexis to run for the NDP

Will take on Liberal Simon Gibson in the Abbotsford-Mission riding

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

Canadian ski resorts wrestle with pandemic-vs.-profit dilemma as COVID-19 persists

Few are actually restricting the total number of skiers they allow on the hill

Victoria-area RCMP locate high-risk sex offender thanks to help of taxi cab driver

Scott Jones wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, ‘a risk to women and girls,’ police say

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

VIDEO: COVID won’t dampen Lower Mainland woman’s Halloween spirit

Langley’s Tanya Reid posted video offering suggestions of how trick-or-treating might look for her

Most Read