When paramedics arrived to the Danzig Street mass shooting, they were met with dozens of people needing help.
“There was a crush of people to the extent that they couldn’t immediately open the doors to the ambulance with all the people up against it,” deputy EMS chief Garrie Wright said.
“When they stepped out of the ambulance, there were people saying ‘Help me, help me,’ trying to pull them in every direction. It was dark. It was difficult to see where the injured were or who the injured were. They still weren’t sure if there was an active shooting, someone with a gun still shooting in the area.”
The first ambulance crew arrived within seven minutes of the shooting and began triage, identifying and categorizing the wounded.
Wright was the most senior EMS official at the scene of the July 16 incident which took the life of 14-year-old Scarborough girl Shyanne Charles and 23-year-old Ajax resident Joshua Yasay. Another 23 people had suffered gunshot wounds as a result of the incident.
“I have been working here for 32 years. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said. “We had 25 people shot in one location. It was unique for us.”
Within minutes of the call, seven ambulances were dispatched to the scene. Another seven ambulances, including three from neighbouring York and Durham regions, were dispatched a short time later. An ambulance bus also attended.
Paramedics transported 16 patients to hospital. Charles and Yasay, were pronounced dead at the scene. The other seven shooting victims made their own way to hospital.
“In these sort of situations, we don’t want to overwhelm one hospital so we try to spread them out,” Wright said. “The initial group of serious patients went to Sunnybrook and then we sent one patient down to St. Michael’s.”
The less seriously injured went to the three hospitals in Scarborough: Rouge Valley Centenary, The Scarborough Hospital’s Birchmount campus and The Scarborough Hospital’s General campus.
“While all this was going on, we were still having a busy night looking after the community with our regular calls,” Wright said. “Was it tight in the rest of the city? Absolutely it was tight, but our crews went through and we dealt with the calls as they came in.”
In the wake of the shooting, a number of Danzig residents said it took too long for paramedics to get to the wounded.
Phil Farquharson had said two women were performing CPR on Charles for 20 minutes before paramedics took over.
Melissa Warren-Paul had said it took paramedics 30 to 40 minutes to get to a 15-year-old girl who had a gunshot wound to the arm. The girl was waiting for treatment in Warren-Paul’s home.
Cheryl, who didn’t want her last name published, had said she took a teen with multiple gunshot wounds into her home and called 911, but was put on hold for 20 minutes. She said paramedics arrived 50 minutes after her initial call.
“I can imagine for those people that every minute felt like an hour, and I can see where it felt like 20 minutes, 30 minutes,” Wright said.
“In this particular scene, I don’t know yet how long it took to get around to each and every patient...The paramedics were going at it in a very systematic approach, so we would get the sickest people and they’d get attention first and the less ill would be taken later on.”
How do paramedics deal with mass casualty incidents?
“We focus on the people who survived because of our actions,” Wright said. “There is the loss of life, but as paramedics we resolve it by knowing that we did everything possible right away for those people and there was nothing more that could be done.”
An EMS staff psychologist has been in touch with the crews that arrived first at Danzig.
“I’m not aware of any issues,” Wright said. “They’re true professionals. They’re back for their next shift.”
There were 37 paramedics at the Danzig scene. Behind the scenes, at EMS headquarters, a dozen emergency medical dispatchers co-ordinated ambulance crew movements and kept in touch with hospitals.
EMS officials continue to review and dissect the Danzig call in an effort to learn from it, he said.
“Our sympathies go out to the families who lost loved ones during that event,” Wright said. “I know the paramedics were very moved on the scene by the loss of life.”