Veteran firefighter says he's never seen anything like Humboldt Broncos crash

The magnitude of Friday's Humboldt Broncos crash was greater than anything one veteran firefighter has ever seen, but he and his team just focused on doing their jobs, he said.

'Anything we needed, they just ran and got it for us,' fire chief says of bystanders

People reopened the site of the crash on Sunday night, and a makeshift memorial has sprung up from gifts left by people paying their respects. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Listen19:38

Read Story Transcript

A veteran firefighter with more than 40 years experience says the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus crash, which claimed the lives of 15 players and staff, was the most intense accident he's ever seen.

Brian Starkell, the chief of the Nipawin Fire Department, was among dozens of first responders called to help upwards of 30 victims. 

The bus and semi-trailer were on their side, he recalls, with bales of peat moss from the trailer scattered around. Victims had been thrown from the vehicles, and were lying in the snow.

"We were focused on all the people that were screaming, or hollering, or moving of any kind," Starkell told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Amidst the chaos, Starkell said he and his team were focused on doing their jobs.

(CBC)

"We heard [the screaming] for a couple of moments, and we'd get the victim out, and get them to the right personnel, and we just went back for the next person."

Starkell said bystanders — a mixture of people driving by or locals rushing out to help — provided tremendous support.

They helped to move debris, he said, and rushed to get blankets or even gave up their own jackets to keep the victims warm.

"Anything we needed, they just ran and got it for us."

Starkell, his team and their spouses will receive support from a stress management team to cope with any trauma arising from what they witnessed.

The wreckage of both vehicles on Saturday, one day after the crash. A veteran firefighter who attended the scene said it was like nothing he had ever seen. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Proud of the community

Randy Hoback, the MP for Prince Albert, was at the crash site Monday, where he spoke with The Current's producer Geoff Turner. He said the people who stepped up to help had "raised the game."

"I'm just so proud of the communities around here — the community of Nipawin, the community of Tisdale — how they reacted, and the emergency response," he said.

Geoff Turner tells Anna Maria Tremonti about a girl who was messaging one of the players when the crash happened. 2:32

Turner has been in Saskatchewan since Saturday, talking to those affected by the crash. He went to the site of the crash on Monday, after police reopened it the night before. A steady trickle of people have been travelling there to pay their respects.

The peat moss bales have been cleared, and an impromptu memorial of flowers, stuffed animals, and a cross made from hockey sticks has sprung up. But closer to the ground, the violent force of the crash is visible in minute detail.

Small shards of plastic and twisted metal, as well as vehicle electronics, and mechanical fluids, are being walked into the ground. Some personal belongings, like playing cards, lie among the debris.

THE HUMBOLDT BRONCOS TRAGEDY: 

Phyllis Snyder came to pay her respects. She's from Nipawin, and a Hawks fan — a team that the Broncos have played before, and were due to play on the night of the crash.

"When we were at the game last Friday, with triple overtime, they sure did put a hell of a good game on for us," she told Turner.

"It's too heartbreaking, too sad for these people to die so young."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Geoff Turner and Idella Sturino.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.