It was a small army of volunteers who responded to a crash on Highway 97, June 13. Some were dispatched by 911 and some happened to be there and know what to do.
Kersley Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) and North Cariboo Highway Rescue (NCHR) were the primary responders, with RCMP and BC Ambulance Service doing their parts as well. They were joined by a flagging crew from Williams Lake who were headed home after a workday in Quesnel and happened to be among the first on the scene.
A small car and a pickup had collided not far from Holley Road between the communities of Kersley and Australian, not far south of Quesnel. The car was still on the highway, the truck was in the ditch. The driver of the pickup managed to get out, the passenger was in need of assistance to get out. The driver of the car was seriously injured and unable to get out of the wreckage.
KVFD chief Eric Smith was one of six from the Kersley department to arrive and he shut down the highway, expressing dismay that many drivers chose to continue driving around the scene before emergency responders could get there.
The firefighters are also trained in medical response at scenes like these, to help stabilize patients for the BC Ambulance Service paramedics when they arrived (one vehicle from Quesnel, one from Prince George, and a supervisor from Williams Lake all attended).
They do not, however, have auto extrication tools, nor do police or ambulance vehicles. That is where NCHR personnel with their equipment and training, are invaluable.
Smith said the combined team of responders “used rams, cutters, spreaders to remove the door, remove the roof, lift the dash off the patient, and then work with BC Ambulance to move the patient onto a spine board and onto the helicopter. You couldn’t ask for better work.”
There was some fate involved as well. Smith is trained in guiding a helicopter to land at a crash scene, it has happened a few times in recent years, he said, but he would have to give up his supervisory post to do it in this case. As luck would have it, someone came forward with a different solution.
“Wrong place, right time is the way to put it,” he said. “One of the (flagging crew) members actually used to work at an airport and had knowledge on how to land helicopters, so he helped us land the helicopter on the highway after we set up our landing zone.” The volunteer used light-up sticks provided by KVFD to communicate with the pilot and knowledgeably guide the landing process. “The helicopter came in perfectly…They want a minimum of 100-metre buffer zone. We had enough space…and we lucked out that there were no overhead power lines to contend with.”
NCHR had plenty of help, at the Holley Road crash scene, but often they attend to incidents outside of any VFD’s jurisdiction. In those “no-one’s land” locations, apart from police and ambulance, they are the only ones coming. This was the case the next day when they attended a collision between two pickups on Highway 97 near Lansdowne Road at the community of Alexandria, which is too far south for the KVFD to attend, too far north for any in the radius of Williams Lake.
“One male driver is deceased and a female passenger was transported to hospital with injuries. The occupants of the Ford pickup were uninjured. The cause of the incident is still under investigation, but it appears at this time that a mechanical failure may have contributed to the collision,” said RCMP Cpl. Mike Moore of BC Highway Patrol.