THE CALLS THAT HAUNT

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Regina fire­fighter Lt. Blair Bechard re­mem­bers a call from years back, two sis­ters killed dur­ing an im­paired-driv­ing re­lated crash.One of his tasks dur­ing the call was to cut one of the sis­ters out of their wrecked ve­hi­cle.“In the early years, it’s harder for sure,” he says of calls like that. “You be­come hard­ened over time. Peo­ple be­come sub­jects that you work on. But there’s no doubt it goes home with you. Kids es­pe­cially, younger teens, young adults ... I think over the years, you learn to deal with it. I call them ghosts. There are cer­tain calls that re­ally stick in your mind. I’ve prob­a­bly got a dozen over the years that I can re­mem­ber even how warm it was or what was go­ing on, what time of day it was.”Ask vir­tu­ally any emer­gency ser­vices worker, and they will nod in un­der­stand­ing. For Regina ad­vanced care para­medic Dar­ren Tanzell, one such call came early in his now 20-year ca­reer.“One of the very first calls I ever did was one of the worst calls I ever did,” he says. “It in­volved drink­ing and driv­ing. I re­mem­ber it was at three o’clock in the morn­ing, it was here in Regina. The fel­low was drunk, driv­ing his half-ton, blew through a red light and hit a car full of teenagers. Ob­vi­ously a very chaotic scene. I can still re­mem­ber where the en­gine was laying in the ditch. I re­mem­ber where ev­ery­body was when we pulled up on scene.”Tanzell says the crash ended in fa­tal­ity and se­ri­ous in­juries, though not for the im­paired driver who caused it.“The thing that re­ally both­ered me at the time was he didn’t re­ally even know what had hap­pened,” he says. “He was that in­tox­i­cated that he was kind of look­ing around like, ‘Who caused this?’“I’ve kind of thought about over the years why I re­mem­ber this one so much. I’ve gone to hun­dreds of ac­ci­dents and this one has al­ways stuck with me ... I think we can kind of un­der­stand some­one fall­ing off a lad­der or a heart at­tack or a stroke or even a reg­u­lar car ac­ci­dent with no al­co­hol in­volved. Th­ese things hap­pen. But for some­one to make a choice and to drink and then drive, it’s more both­er­some be­cause it didn’t have to hap­pen.“So I think that’s why those are es­pe­cially dis­turb­ing for paramedics.”Saskatchewan has strug­gled with high im­paired driv­ing rates for years, our re­cent statis­tics dwarf­ing those in other prov­inces. While SGI’S most re­cent stats re­ported a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease in fa­tal­i­ties and in­juries (39 deaths and 340 in­juries in 2017 ver­sus an av­er­age of 57 and 596 be­tween 2012 and 2016), the fact re­mains many Saskatchewan res­i­dents just aren’t get­ting it.Const. Cur­tis Warnar with the Regina Po­lice Ser­vice’s traf­fic safety unit has heard plenty of ra­tio­nal­iz­ing from driv­ers he has pulled over for im­paired driv­ing.“To the reg­u­lar per­son that we just pull over for leav­ing a bar, it al­ways seems to be that it’s a vic­tim­less crime,” he says. ” ‘I didn’t hurt any­body’ is the first thing out of their mouth, or ‘Noth­ing hap­pened.’ Well, who’s to say what could have hap­pened?”Warnar, too, has seen far too much of what can hap­pen. He es­ti­mates he per­son­ally goes to one or two such crashes a month, al­though he adds the po­lice ser­vice in gen­eral might be called to as many as one or two a day. The num­bers, he adds, might ac­tu­ally be higher since so many sus­pected im­paired driv­ers flee the scene prior to po­lice ar­rival.Tanzell has also no­ticed the prob­lem.“If you’re work­ing a Fri­day or a Satur­day night and you go to a car ac­ci­dent, I’m go­ing to just about guar­an­tee that one of the peo­ple in­volved is drink­ing,” he says.Warnar de­scribes a sense of frus­tra­tion, that all the ed­u­ca­tion in the world, all the op­tions avail­able to peo­ple for a safe ride home, aren’t hav­ing an ef­fect for some.“For me, it’s al­ways so frus­trat­ing how peo­ple can make that self­ish de­ci­sion,” he says. “And it al­ways comes down to those lit­tle things of con­vinc­ing them­selves that what they’re do­ing is OK, like: ‘Oh, I’m good to go. I only had a cou­ple drinks. I’m go­ing to take the back roads home. There’s not a lot of traf­fic on the road­way.’ (They’re) all the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents that go into that po­ten­tially fa­tal de­ci­sion to get be­hind the wheel when you shouldn’t.”Tanzell points out as few as two or three drinks can be enough to cause a crash; he’s been to those calls too.“You don’t have to be black­out drunk to get in an ac­ci­dent and kill some­body,” he says.When crashes do hap­pen, emer­gency ser­vices work­ers are there, block­ing off the scene, talk­ing to wit­nesses, pick­ing through wreck­age for ev­i­dence, help­ing the in­jured, cut­ting trapped vic­tims out of ve­hi­cles — and, in the worst cases, fight­ing to save lives or work­ing around a dead body.For many, there are im­ages that are im­pos­si­ble to erase.Regina fire­fighter Lieut. Roger Arse­nault’s 27-year ca­reer con­tains an es­ti­mated half-dozen calls that stay with him.“The ones that touch you per­son­ally tend to be ones where you can em­pathize and put your­self in that sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially kids the same age (as your own),” he says.Fire­fighter David Lowe was on duty two years ago when a call came in about a man killed by an im­paired driver just out­side the city. The vic­tim turned out to be Lowe’s best friend.“I saw first­hand how it af­fected ev­ery­body — his wife, his kids, ev­ery­body that went to the ac­ci­dent,” he says. “The mag­ni­tude of every­thing, and just the pre­ventabil­ity of drunk driv­ing is the worst thing. It’s so pre­ventable, yet peo­ple still do it, and to such ex­tremes in Saskatchewan es­pe­cially. It’s tough. It’s hard for guys like us to go to calls like that and see what we see and deal with it.”Mem­bers of all three ser­vices say sup­ports have come a long way since the old days, when mem­bers were ex­pected to just deal with the trau­matic scenes they saw and keep go­ing. Now there’s an aware­ness about oc­cu­pa­tional stress in­juries, post-trau­matic stress and the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fects of deal­ing with calls like this. Be­sides peer sup­port, ser­vices of­fer de­briefs for at­tend­ing mem­bers and make coun­selling an op­tion. At­ti­tudes are also chang­ing, re­mov­ing stig­mas once at­tached to mem­bers seek­ing much-needed help.But all the sup­port and help in the world doesn’t erase mem­ory. As­sis­tant fire chief Neil Sun­deen re­mem­bers an im­paired driv­ing-re­lated crash that hap­pened around Christ­mas a num­ber of years back. He re­calls hav­ing to cut the driver free of the car, know­ing there wasn’t any­thing they could do to save him. Mean­while, the man’s wife watched, ag­o­nized, from the pas­sen­ger seat.“You could just see the look on her face, and you just knew what the out­come was go­ing to be and that there was noth­ing you were go­ing to be able to do about it other than to try to com­fort her,” Sun­deen says. “You never for­get that ... You em­pathize with that fam­ily, know­ing that that’s go­ing to be a va­cancy in that fam­ily — and an un­nec­es­sary one — for the rest of their lives.”As Christ­mas ap­proaches, with its par­ties and fam­ily gath­er­ings, mem­bers of all three ser­vices are pre­par­ing for the like­li­hood of an in­crease in im­paired driv­ing in­ci­dents.Along with that comes the pos­si­bil­ity they — like those di­rectly in­volved in the col­li­sions — will be left badly af­fected by the things they have to see.“Be­ing there and be­ing arm’s length away and hav­ing to deal with a de­ceased per­son or what have you, I think you can’t not carry some of that with you,” Warnar says. “It’s just mak­ing sure that you have healthy ways of deal­ing with your feel­ings and what’s go­ing on with you.”... We can kind of un­der­stand some­one fall­ing off a lad­der or a heart at­tack or a stroke or even a reg­u­lar car ac­ci­dent with no al­co­hol in­volved. Th­ese things hap­pen. But for some­one to make a choice and to drink and then drive, it’s more both­er­some be­cause it didn’t have to hap­pen. Dar­ren Tanzell, Regina ad­vanced care para­medic

Clock­wise from top left, Lt. Blair Bechard, Regina Fire As­sis­tant Chief Neil Sun­deen, fire­fighter David Lowe and Lt. Roger Arse­nault of the Regina fire depart­ment spoke with Leader-post re­porter Heather Polischuk re­gard­ing pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ences sur­round­ing in­ci­dents of im­paired driv­ing.

“One of the very first calls I ever did was one of the worst calls I ever did,” says para­medic Dar­ren Tanzell. “It in­volved drink­ing and driv­ing.”

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