Paramedic faces 'long road' to recovery after condo explosion

Winnipeg paramedics are shaken after one of their own, Corey Schroeder, was critically injured in a condominium explosion.
Winnipeg paramedics are shaken after one of their own, Corey Schroeder, was critically injured in a condominium explosion. 1:52

Winnipeg paramedics are shaken after one of their own, Corey Schroeder, was critically injured in a condominium explosion.

"We are worried about him and that's where our focus is. He suffered some significant injuries and burns to his body," said Chris Broughton, president of Winnipeg’s paramedics union.

"He is stable but he has a long road ahead of him and we are continuing to wish for the best for him and his family."

Rubble from the explosion and demolition is piled up Wednesday morning next the condo on Apple Lane. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)
​Broughton visited Schroeder, 35, in hospital but wasn't able to speak with him because Schroeder's treatment requires that he be sedated.

“Paramedics are a tight group of people, so when something like this happens to one of us, we can all see ourselves in these situations," Broughton said.

"We all feel somewhat helpless waiting for Corey to start recovering on his own. We are glad he made it through the night and now have to get through the hours and days ahead."

It has been a tough day for paramedics but particularly for those who had to transport a close friend and colleague to hospital under those kinds of circumstances, Broughton said.

"I can't imagine what that would be like," he said. "I know at this point supports have been offered to them by the fire paramedic service. We will be keep a close eye on our members to make sure they are dealing with this appropriately.

“Those who worked directly with him have been gathering throughout the night."

Flammable chemical

Schroeder was using a flammable chemical to remove carpeting when the explosion happened just after 6 p.m. Tuesday.

It blew out a wall of the building on Apple Lane, a three-unit condo located off Sturgeon Road and Saskatchewan Avenue.

Chris Broughton, president of Winnipeg’s paramedics union, said Corey Schroeder was wearing a breathing mask, which likely prevented his airways from burning. (Jaison Empson/CBC)
He was rushed to hospital in critical condition and is now listed in stable condition.

Neighbours who live across the street from the condo building told CBC News they saw Schroeder come running from the condo shortly after the blast.

They said his body was burned and his face was covered with some kind of breathing mask.

"He seemed to be running through all the debris from the basement and rip off his, he was wearing a gas mask, or a mask of some sort, rip off his mask and then lay there," said Paula Eyford, who was outside when the explosion happened.

"I heard this amazing boom, the largest boom I've ever heard in my life. And then I looked up and as I looked up I could see the whole side of that house, like it was in slow motion, just fall."

Mask saved him

Broughton and president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg Alex Forrest said Schroeder was lucky to be wearing the mask, which likely prevented his airways from burning.

"In all likelihood that mask made all the difference," Broughton said.

"He would have been completely engulfed in flames but because of the mask, the flames didn't enter his nose and mouth and cause any airway burns.

"Had that occurred, the prognosis would be very different."

Firefighters couldn't go inside the building when they first arrived because it was structurally unsafe. Half of the condo has since been demolished.

Damage is listed at $450,000.

Other residents out of their homes

Residents in the other condo units of the building have also been forced out as inspectors evaluate the structural safety. 

"It's unbelievable, you know. The word homeless just has a whole new meaning to me," said Serena Lisson, who cannot go into her condo unit because of the damage.

The outside wall of this building on Apple Lane was blown out in an explosion and fire on Tuesday evening. (Lindsay Tsuji/CBC)
"You could have a plan to go home, and you don't come home to your home. It's done. It's blown up."

She, her husband and daughter, along with their two dogs, two cats and a rabbit, are staying with another neighbour for the time being.

Lisson said she wasn't home when the explosion happened, but she arrived 40 minutes later to find her pets locked inside the burning building.

"All my animals were locked in my house, and you've got firemen telling you that you can't go in your house to get your animals. You get really emotional," she said.

"All I can say is thank goodness they're OK."

Lisson said she is thankful Schroeder is alive, and that firefighters got her pets out safely.

Broughton said the union feels for everyone affected by the explosion, including Schroeder, his family, and the other families that are without homes.

"It is a difficult thing and we are wishing for and hoping for the best," Broughton said, adding that the union will support Schroeder "in any way we can."

Dangerous reminder 

To have a paramedic injured in this way is a jarring reminder about the danger of using chemicals safely, said Broughton.

"To have this happen to him has stunned us and his family and at this point we are not completely sure how it happened," he said.

"All paramedics receive training in dealing with hazardous materials. This is an individual who knows how to manage these kinds of issues, so to have this happen to someone that is educated in dealing with those situations just adds to the tragedy here.

“It serves as a reminder [for anyone] to remain diligent. The instructions are so simple, but it's something we all have to think about and be cognizant of whenever working with chemicals and other materials."