August 5, 2014 7:10 pm

‘They were lucky': Paramedics talk about helping family struck by lightning

TORONTO – The paramedics who helped save a family who was hit by lighting in Monday’s storm say the victims are lucky to be alive.

“They were lucky. We were lucky. It was a good outcome. There are many cases where it’s not,” said paramedic Alan Williams.

Williams and his partner, Lindsey Inwood, were the first ones to arrive. They had to work under a severe storm to help the victims. In fact, while emergency officials were on the scene, another bolt of lightning hit just metres away.

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“There is no way you could not hear it. You heard it. Felt it,” said Williams. “It was an amazing amount of energy. We were almost joking afterwards it was biblical.”

Inwood said paramedics were taking one of the victims to a truck when the lightning struck.

“The bolt hit the tree and possibly the ambulance and disabled the truck right there. No one was in the truck luckily,” said Inwood.

The family was enjoying a picnic at Morningside Park when the severe storm moved in. According to Toronto Police Service, four of the family members took refuge under a tree at a picnic table. Witnesses say lightning struck the tree.

“It’s possible it wasn’t a direct hit. The bolt comes down and sprays off a bunch of different electrical currents, so they might not have had the full effect of the lightning bolt,” said Inwood.

What happens when a person is struck by lightning

Health officials say the effects of a lightning strike on the body can range from mild to severe. Dr. Tony Stone with Lakeridge Health said the biggest risk is when you have a big shock to the heart and your heart stops. But there are minor strikes.

“With more minor strikes you can have brief loss of consciousness, confusion, memory loss, tingling and numbness,” said Dr. Stone.

Moderate strikes, he said, can impact the body even more.

“You might have a lot of muscle pain with it, and you can have other neurological features as well. You might have some ongoing lingering effects like irritability, tingling and numbness,” he said.

Witnesses say Monday’s storm came very suddenly. The lightning came soon after the downpour of rain. While some may seek shelter from the rain under a tree, Dr. Stone said that is not the best spot.

“Lightning tends to try and find the highest point,” he said. “What will happen is strikes will hit the tree but have a perimeter. A lot of injuries actually occur when the energy’s actually transmitted from an object to you”

Dr. Stone said only 5 per cent of injuries are caused by direct strikes, so he recommends seeking shelter indoors.

The family of four were all transported to a nearby hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Paramedics say it’s a miracle everyone is okay.

“It’s definitely something you remember. It’s one of those calls you can’t stop talking about,” said Inwood.

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