Bobsled track accident scene poses PTSD risk for 1st responders

Police, paramedics and firefighters responding to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary on the weekend discovered a gruesome situation they couldn't have been prepared for, even with training or experience.

Police, paramedics, firefighters dealing with traumatic scene on hill, notifying victims' family

Bobsled track accident scene poses PTSD risk for first responders

6 years ago
Duration 2:10
Police and paramedics responding to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary on the weekend discovered a gruesome situation they couldn't have been prepared for, even with training or experience.

Police, paramedics and firefighters responding to Canada Olympic Park in Calgary on the weekend discovered a gruesome situation  they couldn't have been prepared for, even with training or experience.

A total of eight teenagers suffered various degrees of injury, with 17-year-old twins Jordan and Evan Caldwell, who had worked at the park, dying on the hill while attempting to toboggan down the bobsled track.

First on scene were two firefighter crews from the Valley Ridge department who began triaging patients and set up a command post right away. Paramedics weren't far behind.

"They were confronted with a grim scene," said EMS spokesman Stuart Brideaux of the 15 paramedics who arrived around 1:30 a.m. MT Saturday.

The friends snuck into the park with toboggans for a late-night run down the bobsled track, but a concrete gate stopped them partway down.

The trauma of what was witnessed and experienced Saturday morning extends beyond the friends and family of the boys.

Special debrief sessions have been held by police, fire and EMS to help officers and paramedics deal with the stress. More formal counselling is also available to those asking for it.

"You can have great services but you still need people who are willing to access them," said forensic psychologist Patrick Baillie.

Though they're trained for grim situations, those who were at the scene are at risk of suffering lasting stress-related symptoms, according to Baillie.

Officers tasked with notifying victims' family members can also be vulnerable to lasting effects after the often anguished, emotional interactions.

Another factor adding to the gravity of the situation is the fact the victims are young, and many first responders have their own children.

Nenshi weighs in

Calgary's mayor acknowledged the toll of the incident on officers and Emergency Medical Services.

"Our thoughts are with the families of all of the young men injured in this, but also with the first responders who had really had a difficult job early on Saturday morning, as well as with the folks who work at WinSport," said Naheed Nenshi.

EMS's first level of mental-health services involves critical incident stress management debriefs, conducted with peers and a mental-health representative from Alberta Health Services.

The process aims to capture immediate concerns and offer additional supports to those who need it.

Peer debriefs

According to Brideaux, one of the most common practices is even less formal.

"Paramedics among themselves debrief almost every day on calls that have been significant to them."

Though the scene was complicated and grim, Brideaux is cautious comparing it to others.

"Though unexpected, the situation falls well within their capacity to continue performing their jobs."

Research on coping with disasters indicates about 30 per cent of those who experience major trauma will later have difficulties. However, Baillie argues that number is likely lower for first responders.

Because they're exposed to repeated trauma, most have developed their own ways of coping, he said.


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