A Winnipeg mail carrier wants to know why a 911 dispatcher repeatedly instructed him to give CPR to an unconscious woman, even after he told the dispatcher that he was concerned she had overdosed.
Corey Gallagher, 30, didn't know the woman, but told the CBC he feared she may have been using fentanyl. He doesn't recall if he used those specific words when he called 911, but remembers saying he was worried she had overdosed.
"I'm a pretty calm person. It's just in that situation, I was getting anxiety, 'cause I didn't want to touch her. I was getting nervous, and just that was a horrible feeling," said Gallagher.
Gallagher, who has worked for Canada Post for nine years, was delivering mail in the south end of the city Tuesday morning when he came across a woman lying in the lobby of a Manitoba Housing building at Beliveau Road and Eric Street.
At first, he thought she was intoxicated and had passed out, but he soon realized it was something more serious.
"Usually you can startle them if you're walking in," said Gallagher. "So I went in, delivered the mail, kind of called to the lady. [She was] unresponsive, didn't look like she was breathing or anything."
He called 911 and said the dispatcher put him through to an emergency services worker, who stayed on the phone with him until an ambulance arrived.
"He was trying to give me instructions on what to do. I told him, 'This person, I'm pretty sure, is overdosed,'" said Gallagher.
Told to perform CPR
Gallagher said the emergency worker wanted him to perform CPR on the unconscious woman, but he didn't touch her — especially after noticing white powder on her shirt.
Gallagher doesn't know if the woman survived.
"[He] kept telling me, 'I'm gonna need you to do this, you're gonna have to do this, get close, I need you to do this, I need you to put your hand here, hand there,'" Gallagher said.
"I'm like, 'I don't feel comfortable … there's white stuff on her shirt.'"
He said a short while later, a female resident entered the lobby and informed him the unconscious woman was a known drug addict, which added to Gallagher's hesitation to make physical contact.
"It's not that I'm a germaphobe or anything, it's just with the fentanyl stuff, I hear so much about it," Gallagher said.
"I follow the news, and you read about it, and it's actually really scary. I think it was a few days ago I saw three cops OD'd on it, 'cause they reported to a crash or something, and hearing just stuff like that, it really sticks with you."
A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg wasn't able to comment on this specific case but said: "911 forwards these types of calls to [Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service]-specific 911 operators. All WFPS 911 operators hold a paramedic licence."
According to the statement from the spokesperson, "911 call takers may ask the caller to assist the person requiring help until paramedics arrive.
"If the caller does not want to provide mouth-to-mouth, 911 call takers would ask the caller to continue to assist the person with CPR only. If the caller does not want to assist, 911 call takers would ask the caller to stay on-scene until the paramedics arrive."
The Lifesaving Society Manitoba wouldn't comment on the incident, but said it's important Good Samaritans put their safety first.
"The first thing we teach to anyone who's taking our first aid or lifesaving training is they have to ensure safety and that safety starts with themselves," said public education co-ordinator Christopher Love.
"Safety for the rescuer, for a lay rescuer, is the No. 1 priority, and if you cannot ensure your safety then you should not be entering the scene."
Love said every rescuer needs to evaluate for themselves if a situation is safe, and that no one else can do it for them.
"You need to see what you see and then make a decision based upon what you know," Love said.
"Our advice is, our training is, if it appears to be dangerous for yourself you should be summoning extra assistance from the professional side of things, but we wouldn't recommend putting yourself at risk because again, that creates a larger number of victims or patients that need to be treated in the long run."
'Should I have done it?'
Gallagher said that shortly after leaving the scene, he began to question his reluctance to perform CPR.
"I was kind of like … did I overreact … should I have done it?" he said.
"Maybe I was being too judgmental in thinking everybody is on fentanyl, and maybe I'm blowing this way out of proportion."
He said after talking to loved ones and co-workers, he was reassured he did the right thing.
"Most people that I talked to, they said they would have just turned around and would've left and let someone else deal with it because they don't want to be in that situation," said Gallagher.
"It's not the first time I've ever called 911, and most likely it won't be my last. I hope it is, though."