British Columbia

Advanced heli-rescuers give urgent care to remote workers in Sea-to-Sky region

TEAAM has performed three 3 air missions and 46 ground missions since its inception last year. Industry stakeholders are urging more companies to adopt the service.

TEAAM has performed 3 air missions and 46 ground missions since its inception last year

The TEAAM crew is based near Squamish and responds to medical emergencies in the region. (TEAAM/Facebook)

Miles Randell and his team of helicopter-flying medics haven't been serving B.C.'s Sea-to-Sky region for very long — but they've already made a lifelong difference to a forest worker who was struck by an 18-metre fir tree and catapulted down a hill.

"It basically shattered his spine and a number of ribs and gave him a small collapsed lung," Randell told CBC News. "So he was in fairly critical condition."

The worker was in a remote site outside of Squamish, an area where air ambulance staff couldn't reach. And it would have taken ground paramedics hours to get there via the rough bumpy road.

"He would have had about an eight-hour trip from the job site to the local hospital," said Randell. "Then it would have been a couple of more hours before he was able to make it to a trauma centre and receive the surgery he needed."

But Randall and the rest of his specially trained crew, known as a Technical Evacuation Advanced Aero Medical (TEAAM), were called to the site within minutes. They provided him advanced life support on scene.

The worker was transported to Vancouver General Hospital in less than two hours. Randell says the physicians told him the swift extraction saved the patient from paralysis.

TEAAM president Miles Randell's crew members have spent some time practising hoist-based rescue operations. (teaam.ca)

Specialized service

TEAAM is a non-profit society that uses hoists to reach patients in remote settings, like work camps, to extract them and bring them to hospital faster than road vehicles or traditional air evacuation.

Workers are medically trained to provide advanced medical care, coming from a variety of different backgrounds, including emergency physicians, nurses, and search and rescue workers.

"We've got some of the most experienced mountain rescue guides in Canada," said Randall, who founded the society about two years ago. He says the goal of the program is to fill a big medical service gap for remote workers.

The issue was identified in a 2017 report from the B.C. Forest Safety Ombudsman, which says B.C. Ambulance Service (BCAS) employees aren't trained for extraction.

Instead, WorksafeBC regulations require employers have emergency transportation plans in case employees get injured. But some of those plans can be far from efficient.

TEAAM uses hoists to extricate injured patients from remote worksites. (TEAAM/Facebook)

In 2014, a logger in Haida Gwaii had his leg crushed by a fallen tree. It took 11 hours to get him appropriate medical care — a trip that included two boats and a ride in a mechanic's vehicle down a bumpy logging road.

By the time he reached Vancouver, part of his leg had to be amputated. The report suggests swifter medical service could have prevented it.

Finding finances

TEAAM is currently financed by a patronage program. Employers who want to utilize the service pay an annual fee per employee, which covers the emergency crew's operational costs.

"The long-term plan is to be successful enough through our patronage program that we find enough patrons that we build a rescue fund that covers the cost of rescues," Randell said, adding that they're hoping to add hubs in different regions.

Just two weeks ago, the group hoisted a tree planter out of a worksite after a 159-kilogram boulder rolled over his leg outside of Squamish.

WATCH: TEAAM crews hoist injured tree planter

Advocates say the service is desperately needed and urged other companies to adopt it.

"The TEAAM model should be the standard of care for the industry — especially the tree-planting industry," said John Betts, executive director of the Western Forestry Contractors Association (WFCA).

The WFCA and the Truck Loggers Association are lobbying the province and WorksafeBC for additional support for the TEAAM program.

The group argues that the service can save millions of dollars in both workers' compensation and health-care costs.

"This is not replacing the ambulance service. This is to do technical rescue, retrieval, extrication, and emergency medicine for people who have been injured on remote sites that are outside the timely reach of the ambulance," added Betts.

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