LETTER: Drowning witnesses upset at emergency response

‘What we witnessed on that day was a completely inadequate response by the B.C. Emergency Services’

On July 25, we were among the bystanders that witnessed the drowning incident that took place at Cultus Lake. What we saw was a very inadequate response by the B.C. Emergency Services, so much so that we feel a moral imperative to express our concern. In our efforts to double check the details, we actually reached out to the victim’s cousin and friends. They corroborate the details of this testimony.

It was around 2:50 p.m. or so that the drowning incident itself took place, after which point a crowd began to gather around the purported site of the incident. About 20 to 25 minutes later, we heard sirens and noticed officers in uniform arrive on the scene. They were about 25 minutes late despite the fact that they were contacted immediately. Upon their arrival, the officers simply looked on like the rest of the bystanders, seemingly unsure what to do. About 35 to 40 minutes later, a helicopter also arrived.

• READ MORE: Student from India drowned at Cultus Lake Saturday

We are unsure about the precise time divers took their first dives, but according to our conversation with the first bystanders, it was way too late to make any difference.

What we witnessed on that day was a completely inadequate response by the B.C. Emergency Services. Not only was every bystander in agreement about the late response that took place, but we were all wondering why the response did not match the nature of the incident? Why were officers rather than divers sent to the scene of a drowning? Why were the divers sent in so late? In fact, it seemed that they were simply sent in to locate the dead body, which was eventually found, not by any of the emergency crew, but by a bystander who also saved the victim’s other two friends from drowning. If there were life-guards on duty at the lake in the first place, perhaps a life would have been saved that day.

Once the body was recovered, the emergency crew was just as slow to attempt CPR. Sure, a long time had passed, but if an attempt is being made, it might as well be made with a degree of urgency.

The responders were also very indifferent to the situation. We saw them joke and laugh around the dead body, showing no signs of remorse. Even if the nature of their job has normalized such situations for them, surely their professionalism should have prevented them from making jokes. They should have at least maintained a sombre appearance for the crowd, if nothing else. Yet, their lack of compassion and empathy was apparent for all to see. No effort was made to even sympathize with the grieving and shocked friends of the victim. Only one crew member expressed her condolences to the friends. Park employees simply told bystanders to spread out and “enjoy” the rest of their day.

We were certainly saddened by what took place on that day, but we were even more shocked and disturbed by the emergency crew’s response. What we saw was almost a leisurely response, lacking any compassion, as if it was an object, rather than a human being, that was lost. The emergency crew’s response was simply slow, unprepared, complacent, insensitive and indifferent.

If this case serves in any way to demonstrate the usual response that is to be expected of the emergency crew in B.C., we worry about the safety of B.C.’s people. We cannot believe that our tax money is funding such incompetence. We, as citizens of B.C., surely fund emergency services to maximize our safety, yet if what we witnessed is the extent of their efforts, we worry about our safety.

Ultimately, this is not just about what happened but what can be prevented. A more orderly, speedy, caring and appropriate response would not only have prevented a tragedy on Saturday but will surely prevent further tragedies. It is our sincerest hope that appropriate changes will be implemented in order for better responses to take place in the future. It is our hope that in the training of emergency crews, the constant reminder about the importance of compassion is not neglected. Without it a human being will be treated like an object. And once any human life is treated as such, what stops that from determining our own life’s worth?

S. Tehranchi, A. Fekri, P. Ardalan, M. Heydar, L. Tasaboti, T. Banihashemi, K. Shahrokh

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