‘A career of tragedy in one event’: First responders recall Humboldt Broncos crash

News source from CTV News

CTVNews.ca Staff, with a report from National Affairs Correspondent Omar Sachedina

Published Thursday, April 4, 2019 10:09PM EDT

When paramedics Jessica Brost and Barry Thompson arrived at the scene of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, they were unprepared for what they saw.

A bus torn apart and flipped on its side. Hockey bags strewn across the ground. Survivors rushing to help.

“There was just a lot of chaos and people running around and the urgency in their step, their faces, that you could tell this was extremely serious,” Brost, general manager of North East EMS, told CTV News.

Sixteen people were killed and 13 others were injured on April 6, 2018 when a bus carrying the junior hockey team collided with a semi-trailer. Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of the crash, and first responders say they’re still struggling to deal with the aftermath.

“It totally took away my ability to cope with things,” Brost said.

Thompson, who has worked as a paramedic for more than two decades, had just finished his shift when the call came in.

“We were talking a bit on the way out there, just collecting our thoughts and what we might have to do or that type of thing. Pulling up there that day, it was unbelievable,” he said.

“You saw some of the hockey bags and the team bags that were out on the ground and that’s when it really hit home as to who it was that was involved in the accident.”

The severity of the crash was immediately apparent. Brost said Thompson turned to her, distraught.

“He said to me, ‘I don’t know if I can do this. I’m overwhelmed.’ He said it twice and I said, ‘Just one patient at a time.’”

The pair split up: Thompson headed into the wreckage of the bus while Brost helped patients on the ground. Both paramedics are specially trained to deal with disasters, but Thompson said the crash was overwhelming.

“The tragedy that day, it was like, a career of tragedy in one event,” he said.

Nipawin fire chief Brian Starkell and his team of 30 volunteer firefighters joined the massive number of paramedics and first responders who flooded to the scene. All in all, the team stayed there for 43 hours.

Starkell still carries the incident report from that day with him. He says it provides a sense of comfort, but he admits that the crash has had an emotional toll on him.

“I’m probably a bit more short-tempered or fly off the handle a little easier,” he said.

First responders acknowledged the difficulty of accessing counselling services in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Advocates hope that Ottawa’s national strategy addresses the patchwork of programs and make it easier for people to get the help they need.

Truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu pleaded guilty to dangerous driving charges and, in March, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

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