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Coast Guard fills in for ferry during medical evacuation of Quadra woman

The Coast Guard’s Cape Palmerston cutter was called out for an after hours medical evacuation on Monday. - File photo
The Coast Guard’s Cape Palmerston cutter was called out for an after hours medical evacuation on Monday.
— image credit: File photo

Quadra Islanders’ worst fears came true Monday night.

An elderly woman suffered a medical emergency during the night and the Quadra ferry did not have enough crew to sail the woman to Campbell River for treatment.

Quadra Island director Jim Abram said there are more than enough certified crew members living on Quadra and doesn’t understand why the ferry didn’t sail.

“Apparently the ferry did not sail because they did not have enough crew,” Abram said.

“The night watchman was on but they couldn’t get enough crew to sail the vessel. Enough crew lives on Quadra Island to sail the vessel. I don’t know why they wouldn’t sail the vessel. There are at least six or eight certified vessel employees living on this island.”

Abram said because the ferry wouldn’t sail, the Coast Guard had to be called and the woman, suffering from a suspected heart attack, was transported down a steep ramp to the dock and taken across to Campbell River by the Cape Palmerston.

Quadra Islanders, at a ferry meeting April 9, expressed concern that that exact scenario will become only all too common with recent BC Ferries cuts and speculation that Ferries will eliminate the night watchman position, which serves as a crew member during emergency call outs.

Deborah Marshall, spokesperson for BC Ferries, said BC Ferries notified BC Ambulance service Monday night that it did not have enough crew to do an emergency, after-hours sailing which she said is not uncommon.

“That happens a couple of times a week that we can’t get enough crew,” Marshall said. “It depends on a crew member’s own personal circumstances whether they’re willing to get up in the middle of the night to go to work. Whether they have a child and no babysitter, or that person may be tired and doesn’t want to wake up at 3 a.m. but they do their best. They live in the community and they do want to help their community.”

Marshall said BC Ferries is mandated by Transport Canada to have at least seven crew members on board the Quadra ferry in order to sail.

Abram said if that’s the case then “Transport Canada needs to be hauled out from under the carpet and told ‘you are risking lives.’”

Abram said in Monday night’s incident, the woman was fortunate and survived, thanks to the assistance of the Coast Guard.

Dan Bate, spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard, said the Cape Palmerston was en route from Campbell River at 11:30 p.m. Monday night after the Coast Guard was paged at 11:10 p.m. to respond to a medevac.

Bate said the Cape Palmerston arrived at Quathiaski Cove at 11:38 p.m., left the cove 10 minutes after that and was back at the Campbell River dock at 11:58 p.m. where an ambulance was waiting to take the woman to Campbell River hospital.

Bate said the woman was transported onto a stretcher board so she could ride inside the 47-foot Coast Guard vessel.

Bate said there are instances where a patient may ride on the outside deck of the vessel if the patient cannot be moved off an ambulance stretcher.

“It depends on the condition of the individual and also the conditions outside,” Bate said.

“In this particular incident, they were actually inside.”

Bate said contrary to popular thought there is room inside the vessel for one or two family members or friends of the patient to ride with them, but that it’s up to the discretion of the commanding officer whether others will be permitted to come along.

Bate said more and more emergency call outs will likely be handled by Coast Guard in the future.

“We at Coast Guard are predicting we are going to get called for more EHS (emergency health service) calls to Quadra Island so that’s something we are prepared for,” he said.

Coast Guard does not charge for medical emergency call outs, whereas BC Ferries charges $3,000 for emergency, after-hours service.

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