911 operator who told Winnipeg mail carrier to give CPR followed rules, city says

A 911 operator was just following standard emergency protocols by telling a mail carrier to give an unconscious woman CPR, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson says.

Mail carrier felt pressured following instructions to help unconscious woman with white powder on her

Canada Post mail carrier Corey Gallagher, 30, found an unconscious woman in the lobby of a Manitoba Housing building on Tuesday morning. (Corey Gallagher)

A 911 operator was just following standard emergency protocols by telling a mail carrier to give an unconscious woman CPR, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson says.

On Tuesday, Corey Gallagher was delivering mail to a south end apartment building when he found a woman lying in the lobby. He called 911 and was put through to an emergency services worker who told him to give her CPR.

Gallagher said he was uncomfortable touching the woman after spotting white powder on her shirt and fearing it might be fentanyl. He said he was told to perform CPR even after telling the operator he was concerned the woman had overdosed and about the white powder, although he can't remember if he used the word fentanyl specifically.

Michelle Finley, with the office of the chief administrative officer for the City of Winnipeg, said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has reviewed a recording of the call and determined the operator handled it properly.

"During the call, the 911 call-taker did ask a number of questions regarding the safety of the caller's location and access to personal protective equipment," she wrote in an email to CBC News.

The city wouldn't say whether the patient survived the incident.

CBC News requested a recording of the 911 call but was told the fire paramedic service doesn't release the recordings except for use in an official police investigation or by court order.

Finley said medical emergencies can be distressing for those involved, and the city plans to offer to meet with Gallagher to discuss what happened and offer suggestions on how to deal with potential after-effects of responding to a medical emergency.

Experience called unique

A spokesperson for Canada Post said in an email that workers are expected to contact first responders if they encounter somebody in distress on the job. The postal service has long-standing policies for how to respond to suspect items in the mail, including suspicious powders.

But Gallagher's experience was unique in that he encountered both circumstances at once, said Dave Lambert, the health and safety officer for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in Winnipeg.

"Currently we don't have training to deal with members who have been exposed to … the opioid, so right now, I think, the right course of action is to call the police, and we understand our member did and we're proud of him," Lambert said.

"Our members' health and safety is paramount in delivering their job, and so we wouldn't ask them to put themselves in harm's way …. We're happy with the decision our member made in this case."

Dave Lambert is the health and safety officer for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in Winnipeg. (CBC)

The union is involved in a national conversation with Canada Post about fentanyl and the risk it poses to postal workers when it's distributed by mail, Lambert said.

"We're hoping in light of what happened most recently that it might open some eyes as to the importance of our members carrying naloxone kits and being trained in the administration of that," he said.

Lambert said the union has contacted Canada Post to start a conversation about what workers should do if they find themselves in Gallagher's position.

"I understand the care [911 dispatchers] provide and the instruction they provide and understand why they would do this. I don't think it was unreasonable for them to ask for them to do it," he said. "At the same time, they weren't right there in that situation, and I think Mr. [Gallagher] made the best decision at the time, again, putting his safety first."

Dispatchers at 911 may not always have all the information about emergency scenes, making the job of providing assistance to callers a tough one, although they usually get it right, said Brent Fowler, chief executive of St. John Ambulance.

Without more information about Gallagher's call, he said he can't say if the call-taker responded appropriately.

"It's very difficult to tell because we don't have all the details and don't know all the circumstances but I know often the 911 dispatchers are working in the dark," Fowler said.

"They really don't know what's going on and they only have a snippet of information so, in all fairness, it's difficult for them and it's difficult for the rescuer who's in that situation dealing with the casualty."

He added responders who are concerned about mouth-to-mouth can use CPR barrier devices to protect themselves. Without one handy, chest compressions alone are better than nothing, he said.

"The key really is to be trained in First Aid and CPR and carry a first aid kit and a barrier device with you," Fowler said. "… Having that equipment around, being trained, that's what's going to protect you and a casualty."

With files from CBC's Caroline Barghout, Karen Pauls and Cameron MacIntosh