EMS’ unique Banff Rescue support of wilderness care

“Rescue is a partnership and we have a really healthy partnership in national parks where we can lean on EMS and bring them into the response if needed. This is not always possible, such as if there is very technical terrain or if there are hazards present that we don’t think we can handle to an acceptable level, we won’t.

BANFF – Banff’s elite search and rescue team is in a unique position to improve care in the wilderness.

Parks Canada’s professional Visitor Safety team is fortunate to work with a small, cohesive group of Banff Emergency Medical Services (EMS) medics with Advanced Life Support (ALS) – a set of protocols and of skills that can be used to provide emergency treatment for backcountry patients.

When mountain risks are known and can be adequately managed, the Visitor Safety Team takes an ALS doctor on a rescue mission to help with pain management or complex medical calls – which on average about 16 times a year.

“That makes us a bit unique,” ​​said Lisa Paulson, visitor safety specialist for Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, who presented on case studies integrating ALS into wilderness care during of the conference from November 11 to 13. Canadian Association of Wilderness Medicine Conference in Canmore.

“Rescue is a partnership and we have a really healthy partnership in national parks where we can lean on EMS and bring them into the response if needed. This is not always possible, such as if there is very technical terrain or if there are hazards present that we don’t think we can handle to an acceptable level, we won’t.

A recent case study highlighting how the partnership with Banff EMS worked involved a rescue on the east face of Tunnel Mountain in Banff in early October.

While nearing the top of the eight-pitch, 5.10d climbing route known as Tonka, a woman fell and broke her lower leg.

His climbing partner was quick to sound the alarm, but as the daylight was rapidly declining, a helicopter rescue could not be mounted.

A ground crew was quickly assembled, including a lifeguard from neighboring Kananaskis Country and an ALS doctor from Banff. Pushing a wheeled stretcher in the dark, they navigated the 266-meter vertical drop to the top of the 1,692-meter mountain overlooking the Banff townsite.

With technical rope rescue equipment, a rescuer was lowered to the patient below. She was stable and a splint was placed on her leg.

“She was reporting a lot of pain, so we were lucky to have the ALS doctor help with the pain management,” Paulson said.

“They were able to give him something for the bumpy wheeled stretcher ride from the top of Tunnel. It was a great collaboration. »

Parks Canada’s world-class, 10-member Visitor Safety Service also greatly values ​​the contributions of its volunteer medical director, Kyle McLaughlin, an emergency physician from Canmore who helped build the medical skills of the team at rescue and building relationships with EMS.

Recognized by both the CEO of Parks Canada and the Canadian Association of Mountain Guides for his contributions to improving wilderness care in the region, McLaughlin said working with doctors and rescuers has led to an important relationship of trust.

“It’s the collaboration that’s the most important thing in the relationship,” he said.

“It has truly created a team that has improved patient care to the highest level in the history of mountain rescue in Canada.”

Providing professional search and rescue response 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, the rescue team also works closely with partner agencies in the area as needed, including Canmore-based Alpine Helicopters, which provides rescue helicopters and pilots, and STARS air ambulance.

The competent services of the search and rescue dog, Leroy, a German shepherd, and his master Logan Bennett are also called upon for various missions. In November 2021, the duo helped save the life of a 73-year-old woman who was lost overnight in high winds and snow in the Banff wilderness, following her through 22 kilometers of rugged terrain and at least five river crossings near Lake Louise. .

The Lake Louise and Banff Fire Departments also help get to patients near trailheads or manage helicopter staging areas. In addition, many companies in the region play a role in assisting the public or relaying information on incidents to rescuers.

Knocked down paddlers, lost or late hikers, stuck jammers, climbing accidents, falls, medical emergencies – and sometimes body recoveries from fatal accidents when the worst happens – the team relief sees everything.

So far this year, there have been 296 calls for service in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay; however, not all calls require action. If there is no injury, the response may be as simple as telephone guidance or easy pick-up with a vehicle or helicopter.

The number of calls so far in 2022 is in line with other years. The highest number of calls recorded was 334 in 2017 – the year when visitation rates were above average across the country due to free admission as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

That said, last summer was one of the busiest on record. The number of so-called standard rescues – where an injured or stranded person must be rescued, often by helicopter or wheeled stretcher – was 43 in August compared to 30 in August 2017, 31 in 2018 and 33 in 2019 before COVID-19 hit. struck.

“It was pretty busy in August,” Paulson said, noting the weather was warm and the skies were smokeless.

Parks Canada tracks visitor safety response statistics by complexity.

By far the most responses have been standard rescues, amounting to 133 in total so far this year.

Additionally, there have been three deaths in 2022 requiring appeals for body recovery.

A 27-year-old Cochrane woman was carried 300 meters up a steep mountain to her death after a ledge collapsed on Mount Hairy in Yoho National Park on April 13. On July 9, a 42-year-old Edmonton woman fell to her death on Mount Temple near Lake Louise. He was approximately 3,300 feet from where he lost his footing and slid on a patch of snow and ice. On October 5, a 28-year-old Australian man died in his wife’s arms after falling about 20 meters while leading a multi-pitch climb at Mothers Day Buttress on Cascade Mountain, just north of the Town of Banff.

Paulson said the number of calls in any given year depends on several factors, including visitation, weather conditions and visitor preparation.

She said individual human factors such as inexperience, lack of situational awareness, overexertion or fatigue all affect the number of incidents that occur.

“I think it’s more complicated than just increasing visits,” she said.

McLaughlin, who was hired about 12 years ago as Parks Canada’s first medical director for a rescue service, helps train visitor safety specialists in maintaining medical care skills such as abilities first aid.

“We also helped train them in some advanced protocols that would help them in situations where advanced level care was not available, for example, on a cliff or on a glacier,” he said.

“Training-wise, three or four times a year I meet with the rescue team and we go through different medical skills, different simulations.”

The other part of McLaughlin’s volunteer work is providing medical advice when needed during a rescue mission.

“If there’s a medical situation and they don’t know what to do, I call them to help them,” he said.

Some of Banff’s local paramedics have participated in many training opportunities to improve their backcountry skills over the years, such as avalanche courses, swift water rescue courses and on-road rescue courses. string.

“The goal isn’t necessarily to be a member of the rescue itself, but to be safe in those environments,” McLaughlin said.

According to McLaughlin, who sits on the International Alpine Rescue Commission (ICAR) as a Parks Canada representative, the alignment of the rescue service with the highly trained Banff EMS team has been key to moving the system forward.

“If we need it, we can bring a paramedic to the scene, and ultimately I felt and Lisa felt that over the years this has improved patient care dramatically,” he said.

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