Caption: Alec Ritchie and Kayla Brolly are volunteers with North Shore Rescue’s (NSR) advanced medical provider (AMP) team and they both work at Lions Gate Hospital’s (LGH) emergency department: Kayla is a registered nurse and Alec is a physician.
Whenever a backcountry rescue on the North Shore involves a medical emergency, Kayla Brolly and Alec Ritchie are ready to step in.
The pair are volunteers with North Shore Rescue's (NSR) advanced medical provider (AMP) team and they both work at Lions Gate Hospital's (LGH) emergency department: Kayla is a registered nurse and Alec is a physician.
When a man was swept up in an avalanche on Mount Seymour two winters ago – breaking his femur in the fall – the advanced medical team was there to provide aid during the rescue. Despite the harsh conditions that day, the team was able to reach the victim, sedate him, put his leg in a traction splint, package him up and get him out of danger and eventually to a hospital for recovery.
“The fact that over a six- to seven-hour evacuation we were able to take care of the patient properly and keep him warm, I'm very proud of that," Alec said.
It's just one example of the many rescues the medical team has taken part in with the organization since its creation in 2018.
NSR is one the busiest search and rescue (SAR) teams in the country, averaging more than 100 calls a year. About 30 per cent of those calls are medical in nature. It was that volume of medical calls that prompted the creation of the AMP team, the first-of-its-kind in Canada. The team consists of 10 medical professionals; all but two work out of LGH.
Kayla helped co-create the program after joining the team in 2013 as regular member. She noticed a high volume of serious medical calls and saw it as an opportunity to access resources and build a program.
The team is there to handle all types of medical situations from falls from heights and broken bones to blunt-force trauma, cardiac events and allergic reactions.
“It's a huge opportunity to help people in need," she said. “If I was out there or a loved-one was out there and they were critically injured, I would want the best people going to do the best that they could."
While Kayla and Alec are full NSR members, much of medical team required a special membership. But it didn't take long for the full team to see the benefits of the AMP.
“As soon as we brought them on and we put them into the field and they got into action, the whole team was just blown away," she said.
The pair are convinced the medical team has helped saved lives on the North Shore mountains.
“I do think we're making an impact in the community in terms of good outcomes and also preparing our members to deal with more serious calls," Kayla said.
While the summer might involve less snow, the AMP team won't be any less busy. The COVID-19 pandemic has made local trails and mountains even more popular.
As the summer nears the half-way point, Kayla said NSR is prepared for a larger than normal call volume.
“Our summer is our busiest season as well," she said. We're definitely bracing for that increased activity in the front country and backcountry due to limited travel options."
Alec is an experienced backcountry traveller committed to helping others and has four basic tips, he calls “The Four T's", to help keep you safe during your next outdoor adventure.
Train for what you do. If you're planning an hours-long hike across various terrain, you need to be relatively fit and agile. You need to have the physical ability to do what you set out to do. Practice and train in a safe environment before going into the mountains, including plans for inclement weather and temperature changes.
a) Be familiar with the specifics of your hike (things like the route, elevation gain, technical difficulty, etc). Know the weather forecast for your location and the time of sunset. This information is readily accessible, but often overlooked.
b) Leave a trip plan: If you're going on a backcountry adventure, leave a written trip plan with a family member or friend who isn't joining you on the adventure. This plan should include your specific route, the equipment you have and the expected time returning. If you do get lost, this information is invaluable to search teams and gives them good information to help find you.
Some of this list may seem obvious, but if you don't have these 10 things and you get lost it could make your situation far worse. Make sure you know how to use them. They're no good to you otherwise.
- Light (flashlight or headlamp)
- Signalling device or whistle
- Fire starter
- Warm clothes
- Shelter (Large orange plastic bag and thermal tarp)
- Water and food
- First-aid kit
- Map/navigation device
- Cellphone fully charged (and extra power bank)
No this is not an environmental movement. If you take all the precautions and still end up lost, stay put and hunker down. Build a shelter and try to stay warm. Search and rescue teams have a lot better chance finding a stationary target than one that is moving. They WILL find you!
Besides his four Ts, Alec has a message this summer season:
“If people go out and get into trouble we want them to feel free to call 911 and initiate a rescue. That's what we do that's what we're trained for."