‘Someone was screaming for help’
They came. They saw. They conquered.
Paramedics Samantha McLean, Chanelle Frappier-Doyon, Jennyfer Leblanc and Susan Easter were responding last Saturday to a call on Barry Street in Minnow Lake. As they were leaving the building with their patient, they noticed smoke.
The four paramedics jumped into action. McLean stayed back with the patient while her three colleagues did a little recon.
They initially thought it was a backyard fire, but it turns out the smoke was actually coming from an apartment unit on the second floor. “My coworkers put their paramedic equipment away then went to help with the fire extinguishers to see if they could extinguish the fire,” McLean said. “Within two minutes, they noticed the second storey was in flames.”
They notified dispatch and started organizing.
“We just did a divide and conquer situation,” McLean said. “Jennyfer went to go evacuate the townhouses to the left of the building; Chanelle evacuated the townhouses that had the apartment unit on fire; and Susan came over and she was helping.”
McLean said she and her colleagues “all noticed someone was screaming for help from inside.”
It turns out the woman whose apartment was on fire went back into the building to try to extinguish the fire. She had thrown something outside – McLean thinks it may have been pillows – and it was smouldering on the lawn.
“When she ran back inside, she got disoriented with all the smoke and everything, and she went to the first level and she was screaming for help,” McLean said. “Susan noticed her running towards the window. Susan managed to get her to open the window. They broke the screen and pulled her out of the window on the bottom storey. From there, we treated her across the parking lot.”
McLean had been with the initial patient, who could walk, so when the paramedics realized the fire would require everyone’s attention, she told the patient to “stay put” while she directed residents away from the building. McLean remained in close proximity to the ambulance throughout the ordeal.
The scene was one of organized chaos.
“It was a lot of running around, but it was organized at the same time,” McLean said.
The four women managed to evacuate the apartment building. Only one woman suffered some minor injuries for which she was treated at Health Sciences North.
The firefighters arrived within five to seven minutes.
McLean said she and her colleagues are proud “it was four women on a complete fluke,” but they are still in shock.
“We’re all still trying to wrap our heads around it, because we don’t ever face anything to that extent,” she said. “We’re all just still in shock at the whole severity of everything that happened.”
McLean, 26, has been working with the service for nearly two years. Frappier-Doyon has three years under her belt; Easter has been a paramedic for 20 years and Leblanc, seven years. McLean said the city’s paramedic service is about 42 per cent female these days.
“It was natural; we all split up and were doing different things, but at the end of the day, we were doing what we’re trained to do – gain control of the situation, keep everybody out of harm’s way while we were keeping ourselves out of harm’s way, as well,” McLean said.
McLean said none of the paramedics was injured during the call, although they were “a little raspy” at the end of it, but she attributes that to yelling and organizing, as much as to smoke.
“We definitely don’t have an everyday job; we’re definitely faced with circumstances the everyday nine-to-fiver never gets to see,” McLean said. “It’s a little bit exciting and a little bit scary at the same time to know we can be going on a regular call and then it turns into this massive incident, which seems to be a huge learning point for everyone involved.”
Jennyfer Leblanc (left), Chanelle Frappier-Doyon and Samantha McLean take a moment to rest at paramedic HQ in Azilda. The three women, along with colleague Susan Easter, rescued a woman from a burning building on Saturday.