By DARSHAN LINDSAY
May 19 2006
A senior official with the B.C. Ambulance Service in Kamloops rushed to Kimberley this week in the wake of the tragedy at the old Sullivan mine. Four people were killed, apparently overtaken by toxic fumes. Two of those were paramedics.
Bob Gallaher, executive director for the Interior region, left by air on Wednesday and was unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Troy Clifford, a local union representative for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. was fielding calls from area paramedics in shock over what had happened. “None of us expect something like this when you go to work, no matter which profession.” The incident, however, underlies the inherent risk paramedics face on the job, said Clifford, as they enter into emergency situations to save the lives of others. While circumstances were still unfolding yesterday, what is known is known is the first victim, a contract employee, had been at the decommissioned mine site Monday performing water tests. When he failed to return home, a Teck Cominco employee arrived at the mine Wednesday and found the man’s body. He called 911, but both he, and the two paramedics who responded, apparently succumbed to the fumes while in a small wooden shed.
Firefighters equipped with oxygen masks recovered the bodies. “It sounds like it was just a tragic accident. You can’t predict something like this,” said Clifford. Like any emergency personnel, Clifford said paramedics face risks on the job, whether its responding to calls involving alcohol or drugs and violence, or travelling on the highways in adverse weather conditions. He said there are a lot of safety measures in place to protect the well-being of workers, but even then, paramedics can find themselves in situations, like the one in Kimberley, where the risks are unknown.
The Sullivan mine closed in December 2001 after 92 years of active production that employed four generations of miners and produced more than $20 billion worth of lead, zinc and silver. Company records describe it as “an underground mine with a complex orebody, made up primarily of zinc sulphide, lead sulphide and iron sulphides.”