Rankin first responders train to be the best

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Members of the rescue and ambulance crews of the Rankin Inlet Fire Department were especially thankful for the extensive training they receive during an incredibly busy weekend in Rankin from Aug. 3-5.

The weekend saw crew members respond to nine incidents involving 16 patients during a 30-hour period, including a two-truck collision near the healing facility and an accident involving two ATVs.

Summer student Ozzy Innukshuk, from left, looks on as medic George Aksadjuak checks the breathing of mock patient Mark Wyatt and Brittany Aggark tends to mock patient Pamela Pilakapsi during medical training at the Rankin Inlet fire station in Rankin on Aug. 9. Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

The crews responded to two calls during the evening of Friday, Aug. 3, and a number throughout the day and evening on Saturday, Aug. 4, before the multi-vehicle and ATV accidents took place during the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 5.

Fire Chief Mark Wyatt said the Rankin medics were dog tired by the end of the weekend.

He said things could have been much worse, especially concerning the two-truck collision.

“Both trucks were written off and four occupants were sent to the hospital,” said Wyatt.

“I’m surprised they all walked away from that collision.

“It was severe – I mean they were hit really hard – with one truck broadsiding the other on a curve in the road.

“To me, it’s almost miraculous that nobody was either seriously hurt or killed in that collision.”

Wyatt said both individuals in the ATV accident were unconscious when the ambulance crew arrived at the scene.

He said the crew members did spinal precautions and immediately transported the victims to the hospital.

“It’s a good thing I train everyone on our ambulance crews so well because they can find themselves dealing with situations that, really, call for primary-care paramedics to be in charge.

“But we do the best we can and they’re all learning pretty good.”

An RCMP spokesperson said both incidents are still under investigation and no further information is being released at this time.

The weekend showed how much more there is to being a member of an ambulance crew in Rankin than simply transporting patients to the hospital, or taking them to the airport to be medevaced.

The job is rife with peril, not the least of which is being able to perform under extreme stress and block images from the scene from one’s mind when a shift is over.

Wyatt said crew members in Rankin are called upon to deal with suicides, attempted suicides, full-on cardiac arrest, and broken and/or maimed limbs and bones.

He said whatever happens in the big city, can also happen in Rankin Inlet.

“If we arrive and somebody’s passed away, I’ll deal with it and not even let anyone else go in, but, in a case where they still have a pulse and we’re trying to rescue them, everyone does their part.

“There is often blood all over the place as you’re trying to get them out, and you may have to deal with family members who are there, so some calls we deal with here are as harsh as you can get.”

Rankin’s fire department holds either fire training or medical training every Thursday evening.

The department has enhanced its level of medical training during Wyatt’s almost three years on the job, including recently bringing two instructors to Rankin from British Columbia to deliver a first-responder course.

The six-day course resulted in 12 Rankin medics being trained to a higher level, which Wyatt said will continue moving forward.

He said the challenge is getting people to be able to commit the time necessary to take the training.

“Unlike some Nunavut communities, the majority of my firefighters all have full-time jobs.

“I worked with B.C. Ambulance for a number of years before coming to Rankin, so I experienced a number of pretty bad calls.

“But, during my time here, I’ve been to calls I never saw in the south.”

Crew members do a debrief with hospital staff on every major call in Rankin.

Wyatt said some people are quite affected by what they see at a bad call, while others seem to deal with it more effectively.

He said he has taken a number of courses on critical incident stress management, and he follows-up with any member needing help for a few days following a major call.

“We also refer people to the mental-health nurse on occasion, so counselling here, while not great, is all right. We work with all the resources we have available.

“I’ve had one or two people quit because they didn’t want to – or they just couldn’t – deal with bad calls, but, overall, most of my crew are doing pretty good and they keep getting better all the time.

“Right now, this crew is head-and-shoulders above the level they were at when I first arrived, and they continue to be a committed group that works hard and constantly strives to get better.

“With the possible exception of Iqaluit, I would say Rankin has the best-trained department in Nunavut.”

Adding further stress to their jobs – as with any small community – is the fact ambulance and rescue crews often know the people involved with a call they respond to.

Wyatt said that can weigh heavily on the mind of some crew members.

He said when you do this job in a small town, it’s only a matter of time before a call will hit very close to home.

“We responded to a call earlier this month that turned out to be the mother of one of our firefighters. She was medevaced out, but then passed away.

“Every major call tends to touch some people in the fire department, as it touches the community as a whole.

“We sit down and talk about all this in the department, and people are pretty straight forward in telling me if they’re having any sort of trouble.

“It’s like a big family here and we do everything we can to ensure there’s no gap in communication between our members.”