Canada reinvents first responders for severe trauma

Image copyright Google Image caption T-shirts. Photographer Adam Piette created the T-shirt in 2015. It has since sold more than 20,000 across Canada

When an 18-year-old Surrey girl ran screaming from her home to call for help, her screams sent police scrambling.

But they couldn’t find the girl as she hid behind the walls of her bedroom and dialed 911 – her dying breath still in a stream of her own blood.

Emergency responders were faced with two options: rescue the dying girl or save her life.

Up to now, in British Columbia they’ve never had access to an EMT training program.

“This person didn’t have the training and, if there were a critical incident, the fire department would not be able to help,” said Sandra Sharp, vice-president of community safety for the city of Surrey.

Something was wrong. The coroner would later rule the girl’s death a homicide.

Two years on, Surrey is getting a new police department. To help address concerns over violence in the area, the city is expanding EMT training to existing police officers, the military and firefighters.

It’s a collaboration with the Canadian Red Cross and live-saving expert Dr Jill Kaiser.

A consultant, Dr Kaiser previously worked in the RCMP and in Calgary, where she investigated a similar case.

In a flat in Calgary’s Mission District, a 22-year-old woman suffered a violent and unexplained death.

Her three-year-old daughter needed medical attention at the scene and the attacker stayed nearby.

Bling-bling gifts

Image copyright TVU Image caption While some people have said Eric Garner’s death was unnecessary, Dr Kaiser believes man do not have to suffer an unnecessary death

In Halifax, a young family found a 26-year-old man unconscious on the street. Outside, bystanders screamed at police to help them.

Once officers arrived, they had to weigh the options of getting him medical assistance or rescinding the call and waiting for a professional team.

In both cases, responders were dealing with more than a drug overdose.

Dr Kaiser believes these cases are more common than most people realise and says first responders are not adequately trained in what they should be doing.

“By calling 911, what that person didn’t know is that this can happen to you,” she says.

In both cases, she argues that good first responders with the right skills were present.

She says health services, drug companies and municipalities are all at fault for not responding faster.

Three weeks ago, Dr Kaiser was involved in an incredible case in York Region in Toronto.

A woman in her 30s collapsed outside a pizza shop and fell into a coma for more than a week.

Tragically, she didn’t live to see the latest medical developments: tubes up her nose and down her throat were no longer needed.

She was able to breathe on her own, but doctors say she may not have made it until they removed the life support.

Crime, prevention

Image copyright Adam Piette Image caption Adam Piette photographed EMTs in the rescue process and then took the photo to get the right scene

This Saturday, her death is being featured on the front page of the York Region Herald.

Commentators are discussing prevention and sending a message to young people about the dangers of opioids.

Dr Kaiser believes it’s time to change society’s attitude to addiction.

“Heroin and opioid addiction does not discriminate,” she says.

She wants communities to see that these issues are bigger than even police officers and paramedics.

“If we want first responders to do their jobs safely, we need to really have compassion in order to allow them to do their jobs,” she says.

Eric Garner, who died in a New York hospital last August after police put him in a chokehold, became a symbol of how tough the issue of the fatal force police use is.

Dr Kaiser has a solution.

“We need to connect with communities in ways that can help them with very complex issues,” she says.

She says she can take these issues to Washington.

“We need to educate and engage legislators across the country to provide resources and resources that they may not have, for example, for first responders.”

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