Warning: This story contains details that may disturb some readers. Discretion is advised.
Two first responders on the scene of the Humboldt crash that killed 16 spoke to Calgary Today host Joe McFarlane on 770 CHQR about their experiences of the day one year ago.
“These memories, I don’t think they will go away any time soon,” Nipawin Fire Chief Brian Starkell said. “I’ve no doubt that it was the longest night of my life.”
Starkell was the on-scene fire chief at the time of the crash that happened at a rural highway intersection in Saskatchewan.
A memorial marking one year since the tragedy was held at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Sask., Saturday evening, and included one minute of silence at 4:50 p.m., the exact time of the crash.
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“I usually think of one year anniversary of things, they go away and you think about them that day,” Starkell said. “But really that tragedy has not gone away at all.”
Jessica Brost, a Nipawin paramedic, was also a first responder on the scene.
She said that while she and her team had a feeling the crash would be substantial while going to the scene because they heard it involved a semi, they thought the bus would still be intact with injured people inside it.
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When she got there, she said it was a “slap in the face.”
“It was a very in your face scene with very injured patients and several deceased bodies.”
Brost explained that victims had a lot of “facial trauma” that she had to treat immediately. She also had to perform “primitive” treatment, she said, such as rolling bodies onto their sides to get the airways open.
“There was no time to take for yourself and make a game plan, you just had to get into it,” she said. “Adrenaline kicked in and you had nervous energy and drive to complete what needed to be done at that time.”
She said it wasn’t until 24 hours later that she really got a sense of the scale of the tragedy, when she and her team began to see media reports, such as from The New York Times.
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Since the crash, both Brost and Starkell say that they and their teams have needed some time to recover.
“We’ve all had some ups and downs, some guys were affected a little stronger than the rest of us,” Starkell said, mentioning that members of his team took time off, some receiving professional help. “Some guys are taking it very emotionally today.”
Brost said that she had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for the first six months after the crash, and said that with media coverage it was tough to get away from the event.
However, both of the first responders say that the support they and their teams have received from across Canada has been incredible.
“It was just unbelievable, the coverage and support we had from every province in Canada and around the world,” Starkell said.
Brost said it “meant everything” to know that you’re not suffering alone, and received personal cards from every province, as well as artworks, quilts, donations and “unreal” amounts of food.
“It was just a Canadian way to show love and support,” she said. “Thank you Canada for your support, you were amazing.”