A Vernon Vipers hockey player lied flat on the ice for nearly an hour Saturday, waiting for an ambulance to arrive after suffering an apparent head injury.
The incident took place in a BC Hockey League game between the Vipers and the Prince George Spruce Kings, at Prince George’s Kopar Memorial Arena, on Oct. 1, with less than three minutes to play in the game.
Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes said that the injured player, Will Blackburn, was battling for a puck in the corner when he fell awkwardly into the boards. The play proceeded towards the other end of the rink, but Blackburn didn’t get up off the ice.
“He was in some medical distress,” Hawes told The Morning Star. “Vernon’s trainer and my trainer went on the ice, as did the first aid personnel from the arena, and I guess the concern initially was a head injury.”
Blackburn was attended to, while officials called 911. Meanwhile, both teams agreed to call off the rest of the game.
Hawes said the injury occurred around 9:20 p.m., and an ambulance didn’t arrive until about 50 minutes later.
“The process was certainly frustrating at that point,” he said. “Our volunteer coordinator called and was on hold for a period of time and then we called several other times during the waiting portion.”
Eventually, the Spruce Kings’ longtime announcer Ron Gallo took matters into his own hands, driving to the hospital emergency bay to ask for help. Gallo was able to track down a pair of paramedics and ask them if they’d had a call from the arena.
“One of the paramedics checked her phone and said something along the lines that it was in the queue but that they could come right now, so essentially that was a big reason, a big part of how we were able to finally get an ambulance to attend the arena,” Hawes said.
When the ambulance did arrive, Blackburn was transferred to hospital where he underwent tests including a CT scan. The results of the CT scan came back negative and Blackburn was able to get on the team bus back to Vernon.
“We are extremely grateful to our athletic therapist Yasmine Jutt and the medical professionals for taking such great care of Will,” Vipers head coach and GM Jason McKee said in a statement. “We’d also like to thank the Spruce Kings organization for their help in a very tough situation.”
Hawes says the paramedics and dispatchers weren’t to blame for the lengthy delay. Rather, it’s a systemic emergency response issue that the province needs to contend with.
“I know (the paramedics and dispatchers) are extremely shorthanded and short staffed and this is an issue that certainly the provincial government needs to get a handle on,” he said. “Thank goodness that the injury wasn’t more serious than it turned out to be.
“Injuries happen in hockey and in athletics anywhere, and it would be nice to know that when you need first responders for an incident that they’re there and able to respond and that they don’t have that delayed response like we did that night.”
In an email, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) said they received a call to respond to the arena at 9:24 p.m. The call was triaged as a “yellow” call, meaning lights and sirens weren’t necessary. At 10 p.m., based on new information about Blackburn’s condition from the scene, the call was upgraded to “orange,” indicating a more urgent lights-and-sirens response.
The ambulance arrived at 10:07 p.m.
“We know it’s stressful when someone who needs an ambulance is waiting for one,” the BCEHS said.
“Our dispatch also has a process to upgrade a call to a higher priority response if a patient’s condition worsens. If the family is seeking information about their care, we encourage them to reach out to our Patient Care Quality Office.”