April 8, 2014
Story by Kirsten Goruk; photo courtesy of the Peace River Fire Department
Anyone who works in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) knows that each day brings with it some uncertainty. You never know what call you’ll get or whose life you might help save.
On the morning of Feb. 17, Peace River EMS got the kind of call that changes lives. Rick Bergen was one of the first Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to arrive on scene.
“The call we were going to was a two-vehicle collision about 7 kilometres east of Peace River on Highway 2. As we pulled up on scene we saw a sand truck and a tractor-trailer unit in the ditch,” Bergen recalls.
“The sand truck was on fire, and you could tell that there was a pretty massive impact because the box of the sand truck was torn off the frame.”
As they got closer, dispatch informed the crew there was a black tag, someone who had died. Bergen, who also works as a casual paid on-call fire fighter, readied himself for what they would find.
“In my mind, I was going over there to pronounce somebody as dead. Either A we couldn’t access them or B they were already dead. Looking at that wreck, it was one or the other,” he said.
The quick response from the St. Isadore Fire Department and Northern Sunrise Fire Department allowed emergency responders to access the burning vehicle.
“As they were doing that I’m standing back and watching the scene and I see the tractor-trailer driver’s arm sticking out of a pile of sand in the door frame. As I’m waiting for the flames to get pushed back, the guy moved his arm,” Bergen says.
The impact of the crash had broken both the side and front windows on the truck, with sand coming in through the roof of the cabin. After seeing the driver’s arm move, the team sprung into action.
With the help of Paramedic Gary Fenton, a few fire fighters and RCMP officers, they were able to safely dig the man out, pull him from the wreckage and get him to one of the three ambulances at the scene.
“I haven’t taken credit for saving a life and I will not take credit for saving a life. A lot of people have said that, but pure luck saved that gentleman.”
Bergen explained that the truck the man was driving had a heavy vinyl curtain to divide the truck compartment from the sleeper. The curtain ripped off during the collision and got wrapped around his head, giving him a pocket of air to breathe.
The other two patients involved in the crash came away with minor injuries. The man rescued from the truck was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital for further treatment and eventually released.
Bergen has been a member of the Peace River Fire Department since he was 18 years old and has been an EMT with Peace River EMS for the last four years. When Peace River Fire Chief, Lance Bushie learned of the event he wanted to somehow recognize this longtime member of the department by awarding Bergen with the Chiefs Coin for Excellence.
“People who have gotten that before, and not many people have, have literally saved a life. I didn’t view what I did as saving a life; I identified a life. I was very surprised, not expecting it at all. I guess shocked is a better term,” he says.
Peace River Fire Chief Lance Bushie explains that the award is something new for the department.
“It allows us to recognize people on the spot for acts of honor. We kind of came up with the idea last year and it’s sort of based on coins that are given out in the Canadian Military. We haven’t given out many, only three so far for acts of service,” he says.
Aaron Thordarson, Manager of EMS Clinical Operations for the Peace River Region says that he is proud of Bergen for receiving the award and credits the entire emergency response team for the positive patient outcome.
“Everyday AHS EMS works in partnership with fire and police personnel to help make a difference in our communities. This response is a shining example of how these partnerships can change and save lives.”
Bergen explains that while not every call is like the one on Feb. 17, the EMS career is one that he thrives in.
“It has its ups and it has its downs. There are days that are a challenge and days that you feel you’ve actually done some good,” he says.
“It’s the world we live in. You do calls that rock your world, where everything went right: You got a pulse back or the patient improves before you get to the hospital. But you also have those days where you don’t feel like you did any good.”