Residents who live around Gardom Lake are concerned that an ambulance was not called on March 19, 2021 by a 911 dispatcher for a woman with severe burns. (Contributed)

Residents who live around Gardom Lake are concerned that an ambulance was not called on March 19, 2021 by a 911 dispatcher for a woman with severe burns. (Contributed)

Lack of 911 response to severe burns leaves Gardom Lake residents worried

Dispatch unable to find Shuswap address so no ambulance called, no response from promised nurse

Faced with a terrifying emergency, Patty Mead expected to get help when she called 911.

But it was not to be.

Mead lives at Gardom Lake and rents out a separate house to tenants. On March 19, she and her tenants were enjoying a campfire nearby. She went home to go to bed about 10 p.m.

The woman, who Mead wished not to name, was alone by the fire when her adult son, who went inside the house for a couple of minutes, heard her cry out.

Heading back outside, he was horrified to see his mother trying to get out of the burning fire.

Mead explains that the woman must have had her back to the fire and, because the fire pit has a bit of a lip, stepped back, lost her balance and fell in.

Her son managed to pull her out, burning his hands doing so, but she was badly burnt, in shock and panicking. Mead said she hit her head, had severe burns on her arm and side, as well as lesser burns on her face.

Because there is no cell service where Mead lives, she went and grabbed her land-line phone and came back. She called 911 and reached a dispatcher, but no help was to be found.

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Mead surmised afterwards that perhaps the reason was because the address at Gardom Lake is listed in Enderby – in the 700 block of Park Road – and the land line is based in Salmon Arm.

Mead said she tried to maintain her composure while the dispatcher, based in Surrey, asked questions such as whether there was a park nearby, was she in a campground with a fire pit, and such.

Mead said she was then told that an ambulance would not be sent because the dispatcher could not find the address on their map. She was also told that a nurse would be put on the line to help with providing first aid.

However, a nurse didn’t get on the phone; Mead noted that the recording as she waited said the lines were busy that night. She was also told if she got cut off, to phone back.

Mead said the woman’s husband was also calling from a land line and getting the same result.

She estimates they waited about 15 minutes until she decided just to drive the woman to Shuswap Lake General Hospital in Salmon Arm. Altogether, with the wait and the drive, Mead estimates it was 45 minutes until the woman arrived at the hospital.

After that, she was taken to hospital in Kamloops and then flown to the burn unit at Vancouver General where she underwent skin grafts.

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Mead pointed to the need for change in several areas.

One is having dispatch in Surrey, she said, where operators are unfamiliar with the area.

Mead said she doesn’t blame the dispatchers, as they can only work with the information they’re given. However, it’s unacceptable for someone to be told their address can’t be found, when the local ambulance and fire service would have been there in minutes.

Another is the lack of cell service. And the problem with the address, which she thinks perhaps the Columbia Shuswap Regional District could help remedy. She also didn’t think it was right to be put on hold to wait for a nurse in such an emergency situation.

She said she has been told by MLA Greg Kyllo and BC Emergency Health Services that they are looking into the incident.

Mead said the March 19 incident has concerned many people. A lot of seniors live at Gardom Lake as well it being home to a public park and a bible camp.

“It’s worrisome if it happens again to someone else.”


marthawickett@saobserver.net
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Emergency callsSalmon Arm