WINNIPEG — The manager of a Saskatchewan city that lost 16 people in a hockey team bus crash says community officials everywhere need to be trained in how to deal with trauma and mental-health needs following a disaster.
Joe Day says he only had limited training in how to respond to an emergency when he was called last spring following the deadly crash that would reshape the city of Humboldt.
A semi-trailer and a bus carrying the city's junior hockey team collided in April. Sixteen people died and 13 were injured.
"We train for events like train derailments or big automobile accidents, but we don't do a lot of training for what happens if there is a big mental-health type of issue in your community," Day said at a disaster management conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
Day first heard about the collision on social media. A call from Nipawin's mayor followed soon after and officials quickly assembled in Humboldt to figure out what happened, how bad the crash was and what the community's response should be.
"It was completely overwhelming how many moving parts there were in the first two, 2 1/2 days," Day said.
"It was necessary for such broader, bigger trauma counselling and trauma response that we really weren't prepared with how to deal with that."
Humboldt fire Chief Mike Kwasnica told the conference he received a phone call from Nipawin's fire chief soon after the crash. Humboldt's volunteer firefighters were 170 kilometres away from the site so their roles as first responders changed drastically.
They were often a shoulder to cry on or directed traffic on top of responding to their regular calls for fires and car crashes.
"I don't know if you can plan for it,"said Kwasnica, who added that the crash affected some firefighters directly because they had billeted players in the past.
It soon became clear that Humboldt would become a place to mourn, but unlike a forest fire or a flood, the province didn't have mental-health professionals who could respond at a moment's notice, Day said.
Workers from local non-governmental organizations volunteered their time and spent days at the Elgar Petersen Arena, which became the gathering centre for people grieving.
The Sunday following the crash thousands of people crowded into the area for a vigil that was broadcast around the world.
Day said the grief didn't end after the vigil or when the media coverage of the tragedy began to wane. For the families affected and for people in the community, mental-health supports were needed long after.
Officials in Humboldt are involved in a review with Public Safety Canada and Day said it's important they reflect on the steps taken in the moments, days and weeks after the fatal crash.
"This is an event that for us isn't over," Day said.
"We went through a lot. We learned a lot."