New Brunswick

Mayor wonders whether teenage girl's death linked to slow ambulance

Ambulance New Brunswick is facing renewed complaints about service in western New Brunswick after a motor vehicle crash Aug. 11 that fatally injured a 14-year-old girl and seriously injured two other teens, all from Saint-Léonard.

Conflicting accounts of response time after crash near Saint-Quentin

Saint-Quentin Mayor Nicole Somers is frustrated that no ambulance was available in her community when the crash happened. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

Ambulance New Brunswick is facing renewed complaints about service in western New Brunswick after a motor vehicle crash Aug. 11 that fatally injured a 14-year-old girl and seriously injured two other teens, all from Saint-Léonard.

"The coverage that we have with Ambulance New Brunswick right now is not acceptable," said Saint-Quentin Mayor Nicole Somers.

"The time lapse between the call and the response is getting to be ridiculous, really."

'If there was a small chance for her to stay alive, was she given that chance?- Nicole Somers, mayor of Saint-Quentin

She said she has heard from the victim's family, who also questioned the response time.

Ambulance New Brunswick, however, said it took only 20 minutes between the 911 call and the arrival of paramedics at the scene of the crash.

Health Minister Victor Boudreau said Friday that the department will work closely with Ambulance New Brunswick to examine the response to the accident. 

The girl who died was a passenger in a vehicle driven by an 18-year-old man that went off Labrie Riad outside Saint-Quentin at about 7:45 p.m. and rolled several times, according to an RCMP news release.

The teen was taken to hospital in Saint-Quentin and later airlifted to the IWK Hospital in Halifax, where she died Tuesday of her injuries, said police.

Another 14-year-old girl was also airlifted to hospital in Halifax and is believed to be in stable condition, the Mounties said.

The 18-year-old driver was taken to hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Firefighter, ambulance differ

Cpl. Marc-André Thériault said the preliminary investigation indicates speed may have been one of the reasons for the crash. He told Radio-Canada it's also possible the sun was in the driver's eyes.

Martin Pelletier, the volunteer fire captain, told Radio-Canada it took at least 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive at the scene. 

But Jean-Pierre Savoie, director of operations for Ambulance New Brunswick, said dispatchers received the call to help at 7:41 p.m. and paramedics arrived at the scene of the collision at 8:01 p.m.

He said a crew from Saint-Léonard was covering the area when the first 911 call for help came from Kedgwick.

'Dynamic deployment' of ambulances

"New Brunswick operates on a dynamic deployment system to manage the number of ambulances serving patients," Savoie said in an emailed statement to the CBC.

"That means when one ambulance is dispatched to a call, other ambulances are relocated strategically to meet demand,

"A traumatic call like this is tragic for all involved. We're grateful for the professionalism of our paramedics. Our thoughts are with the families of the patients."

Somers said the regular ambulance in Saint-Quentin was not staffed that evening. And there was only one ambulance in the area, so it had to travel back and forth to the hospital three times.

By the time a second ambulance arrived from Perth-Andover, the third patient was already being loaded, said Pelletier, the firefighter.

"Was she taken care of fast enough?" Somers asked in an interview. "If there was a small chance for her to stay alive, was she given that chance?"

Volunteer firefighter Martin Pelletier indicates the spot on Labrie Road where a vehicle crashed, fatally injuring a 14-year-old passenger. (Serge Bouchard/Radio Canada)

The mayor said this is the third such incident in the past year.

Last month, a woman fell on her way to a wedding anniversary and was knocked unconscious. She waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance before family members gave up and drove her to hospital themselves.

In August 2016, there was no ambulance on hand to take a woman to hospital after she had a stroke.

"They strapped her on a chair and drove her to the hospital in the back of an SUV," said Somers.

The woman died 11 days later and her husband, former ambulance worker Jean-Yves Gauvreau, said that might not have happened if she'd been given medication sooner.

Government response

Somers said her town is "in the middle of nowhere" and needs an ambulance 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

A meeting between Somers, the mayor of Kedgwick, and officials with Ambulance New Brunswick is scheduled for Aug. 30.

The Department of Health said in an email to CBC News that the province outlines rural and urban response times as part of its contract with Ambulance New Brunswick.

The ambulance company is not excused from meeting response times because of the distance travelled, the department said.

"We are saddened by this tragic event and we appreciate the devastating impact it has had on this young lady's family and the broader community," Boudreau, the health minister, said in an emailed statement. "Our thoughts go out to them at this difficult time."