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“A symphony of efficiency”: the BCEHS response to the February 25, 2018 Coquihalla incident

Winter conditions on the Coquihalla led to a major crash involving two buses, two semis and several passenger vehicles on the night of February 25, triggering a coordinated BCEHS response that spanned multiple departments and communities.
Ambulances at the scene of a major motor vehicle incident on the Coquihalla Highway
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Ultimately—and most importantly—it also ensured that the 165 people involved that night were safe.

“It was one of the largest and most dramatic events that I’ve ever attended in my 34 years in the service,” said one paramedic who responded. “On a scale of 1 to 10, this was an 11.”
Twenty-nine ground and air ambulances, three paramedic responder vehicles, and six supervisor vehicles were dispatched through the night. A helicopter crew with the Royal Canadian Air Force Rescue Squadron 442 was also dispatched, but was later cancelled by paramedics on scene as it was not required.

On the scene, paramedics and other first responder partners faced cold temperatures and heavy snowfall as they attended to the patients on both sides of the Coquihalla, which was shut down in both directions on a stretch between Hope and Merritt. The event lasted six hours, and was finally over by 2:30 a.m.

David Hilder, a paramedic specialist with 20+ years with the ambulance service, said that this is the most extensive response that he had ever been a part of, including the Stanley Cup Riots in 2011, and a serious crash in the Massey Tunnel.

Miraculously, no bus passengers were seriously hurt. Paramedics took 29 people from the scene to hospital in conditions ranging from stable to critical. Paramedics assessed another 136 people and took them to a warming centre set up at Hope Secondary School. Once there, paramedics took everyone through a second triage process, which resulted in an additional six patients being transported to the hospital. 

Ryan Topp, the charge dispatcher on duty that night, credits BCEHS’ provincial model for the seamless response. 

“The value of having a provincial service was evident on Sunday; we were able to coordinate resources from across the province without jurisdictional restrictions, which truly allowed us to provide the extent of care that was necessary.” 
BCEHS teams involved in the response include dispatch operations, the critical incident stress management team, communications, and the BC Patient Transfer Network, who tracked the patients and worked with hospitals across the province.

BCEHS Executive Vice-President Linda Lupini called the response “remarkable.” 

“Our teams did amazing work dealing with the three separate scenes and coordinating the multiple resources, including many paramedics, managers, ambulances, and helicopters as well as buses for less injured patients,” she said. “Our dispatch crew was very solid and supportive, and communications between teams were excellent, both within BCEHS and with our involved partner agencies.”

While the sequence of the events that led to the crash is still under investigation, what is clear is that everyone involved that evening rose to the occasion. A patient’s family member, who reached out through the Thank a Paramedic section on our website, called the response  a “symphony of efficiency.”

Numbers at a glance:

  • 165 people
  • 29 ambulances
  • 6 hours
  • 3 scenes
  • 1 coordinated provincial response 
BC Ambulance Service; BCEHS; emergency response; local heroes; patient care
SOURCE: “A symphony of efficiency”: the BCEHS response to the February 25, 2018 Coquihalla incident ( )
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