Nobody likes to imagine it-but sooner or later a worker in British Columbia’s backcountry will be badly injured, or have a health emergency, and need to be rescued by a chopper.
Risk of injury is always on the mind of tree fallers. “We have the most dangerous job in the province,” says Steve Venus, co-owner of Blue Thunder Contracting, of Campbell River.
Venus is trying to make the job a little less dangerous. He recently helped raise funds in order to bring a helicopter service with advanced medical support to Campbell River.
TEAAM-the Technical Evacuation Advanced Aero Medical Society-launched a new base in the city this month.
TEAAM uses specially-equipped helicopters, and long-line rescue specialists, to retrieve injured workers from hard-to-reach locations, its president Miles Randell told West Coast Now.
Once on board, patients are treated by TEAAM’s on-call emergency doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and paramedics, while being flown to the hospital. All staff are volunteers, and are paid for the time on call.
“These people operate a trauma centre in the air,” said Venus, whose tree-falling company employs 50 people in Campbell River, Woss, Port Alberni, and Lake Cowichan. Companies like his pay an annual subscription to TEAAM to respond to its calls for help. The new Campbell River base was also funded by donations from area businesses, industry organizations, and the regional government.
When a call comes in, usually relayed by radio from remote locations, the TEAAM chopper should be in the air within an hour, says Venus.
“As a forest industry we’re thrilled,” Venus told West Coast News. “It’s a higher level of service than we’ve had.”
“I hope I never need them, ever,” he said. “But eventually we are going to need them.”
Bill Nelson, immediate past president of the Truck Loggers Association, said the association donated $10,000 to help get the new base off the ground. His own company, Holbrook Dyson Logging, bought an annual subscription in case one of its 60 employees needs help.
“Thank you so much for your support! You are saving lives and we are grateful for your help in getting TEAAM 4 off the ground!” said TEAAM emergency nurse Jennifer Lorenzetto, on the Truck Logger’s Facebook page.
“It will serve any industry in the long run, in any remote community, including fishing lodges and people working on barges and tugs,” Nelson told West Coast Now.
The TEAAM chopper will fill a gap left on northern Vancouver Island after Ed Wilcock-whose helicopter company flew helicopter missions for decades-died tragically in a 2019 crash.
TEAAM was begun in 2018 by Randell, as a non-profit modelled on the Swiss rescue organization Air Zermatt.
Randell said TEAAM, based in Squamish, aims to fill gaps between government rescue services and volunteer Search and Rescue organizations. The Campbell River base is the organization’s fourth, and “we have a plan to cover most or all of B.C.”
The new pool of TEAAM responders in Campbell River “is humbling,” said Randell. “We provide some incredible medicine.” It includes an emergency physician who was part of the NASA program, a critical care physician who runs an area intensive care centre, and a former Canadian Forces flight surgeon. Its advanced paramedics include retired SAR Techs from the military.
Volunteers are attracted to TEAAM because “what we’re doing is one-of-a-kind in Canada,” said Randell, a former paramedic and long-term Search and Rescue volunteer.