Recognition rises for emergency dispatchers in wake of Broncos bus crash

(L to R): SEMSA Vice President Kelly Prime, Parkland Ambulance CEO Trevor Dutchak, Corey Ecarnot with La Ronge EMS, Parkland Ambulance Director of Communications Brian Reichle, Jessica Brost with North East EMS, Andrew Williamson with Medavie Services West and Keith Woytiuk with SEMSA. (ParkAmbulance/Twitter)

“It was very organized chaos. It was very overwhelming at times.”

– Jill Stefanick, Parkland Ambulance Communications Supervisor

Behind every paramedic on the scene of a tragedy is a team of emergency medical dispatchers (EMD) who coordinated them to respond.

The Humboldt Broncos bus crash, which killed 16 people and injured 13 others, is no exception.

On the evening of April 6, 2018 when the crash occurred, Parkland Ambulance’s Telecommunications team in Prince Albert directed ambulances across the province to help.

They’ve received much appreciation for their work, including at the Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association (SEMSA) Awards Banquet on Wednesday night in Saskatoon.

The recognition was alongside five other ground paramedic services involved—Melfort Ambulance Care, La Ronge EMS, Tisdale Ambulance Care, North East EMS in Nipawin and Medavie Health Services West in Saskatoon.

Each got a framed Broncos jersey.

Jill Stefanick, Parkland’s communications supervisor, was one of the six dispatchers working the night of the crash.

“It was very organized chaos. It was very overwhelming at times,” she said.

Stefanick emphasized that the communications centre was crucial in the Broncos bus crash.

“I think people are starting to recognize the job that we do and the important role that we play in EMS.”

She added the tragedy sparked closeness among those were involved.

“I think the whole thing just brought everyone closer as a team—our comms centre, staff that worked that evening, the paramedics that responded. I think it formed a bond that night that will never be forgotten.”

Director of public affairs, Lyle Karasiuk, called the communications team “unsung jewels” in many situations.

“We don’t pay enough dues to them and say thank you enough times. Often the visible face the public really sees is, of course, our paramedics who respond out there each and every day,” said Karasiuk. “But we don’t often see or hear or even know all of the work that goes into coordinating.”

“We don’t want these things to happen in our career. Likely this is probably a once in a lifetime event, at least we certainly hope so.”

In November 2018, the group of dispatchers received an Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) award in Montreal.

Later in May, the group will also be receiving a provincial Star of Life Award in honour of Paramedic Services Week.

Province funds first responders mental health and addictions programming

Also announced at SEMSA’s annual convention was the provincial government’s contribution of $250,000 for the mental health of first responders.

Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit delivered the news on Wednesday for Mental Health Week.

“We recognize that EMS providers and volunteer medical first responders are on the frontlines of medical care and are exposed to a high number of stressful situations,” he said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) will use the money to start a program providing mental health services for both public and private EMS providers. Additionally, the funding will go towards training two incident support teams and nine peer support teams that will serve the province.

The funding is part of Saskatchewan’s 10-year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan.