RCMP, paramedics use snowbulances to rescue woman in remote cabin


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It was the ringing of a phone a few hours before the ringing in of a new year that changed an RCMP officer’s evening and saved an elderly woman’s life.

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It was the ringing of a phone a few hours before the ringing in of a new year that changed an RCMP officer’s evening and saved an elderly woman’s life.

RCMP Acting Sgt. Colin Stark was just settling down to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his wife and two adult children at his home in The Pas when the phone rang.

Minutes later, Stark, another RCMP officer, two paramedics, and a guide were racing on snowmobiles through cold and snow in the wilderness to help an 81-year-old woman in medical distress in a remote trapper’s cabin.

“What is unique is just how lucky we were that day,” Stark recalled Thursday.

“You can’t expect communities will have the equipment needed and people who know how to snowmobile. This is not our core mandate, but we help when we can.”

Stark, a 22-year veteran of the RCMP who has been stationed in The Pas for eight years, said the detachment received a call from a concerned member of the woman’s family just before 5:30 p.m.

The cabin is located about 50 kilometres south of The Pas, and the caller said the woman had used a snowmobile to get there, but was ailing and couldn’t ride to seek help.

Stark said he spoke with an elder familiar with the area and they both agreed the cabin was too deep in the woods to get her out with a helicopter.

He called another officer — like him trained in wilderness searches — paramedics and a local guide.

Luckily, he said, the RCMP detachment has two of its own snowmobiles, as well as what they call a pair of “snowbulances” — enclosed transport pods with heaters and extra suspension to prevent a patient from being bounced around too much while being towed by a snowmobile.

“We had to plan for what could happen because we would be on our own,” Stark said. “We had to bring extra gas because we knew it was far enough that a tank of gas wouldn’t get us there and back. We also knew there is still open water, so we had to wear flotation suits.

“And, because there was a chance something could happen and we would be there overnight, we also had to bring survival gear.”

Stark credited the time he has spent in The Pas for being able to get things together so fast. A little more than a half-hour after getting the call, the team was on sleds, headed south.

“You could see some of the stars and the moon, but it was very dark. The only light was from our headlights. And it’s not like it was a groomed trail.”

It took about an hour to get to the trapper’s cabin.

“We travelled along the power line, across four lakes, and on to the Saskatchewan River system. We were two feet away from open water on the river, but we were on ice by the bank edge,” he said.

After the paramedics assessed the woman as being stable enough for transport, they put her in the snowbulance and started heading back the way they had come.

“It was slower on the way back because we were powering our way there, but we had to take it easier on the way back with our patient — you can’t come zooming back,” Stark said.

“We also had to stop at times so the medics could do their thing and assess her.”

The team emerged from the woods about two hours later, about 10 p.m., south of town in an industrial area where an ambulance was waiting to take the woman to the hospital.

The officers then returned the machines and equipment to the detachment.

“You have to do this whenever you put it back because you never know when you will need it next. You can’t wait until the next day because you might need it again right away,” Stark said.

When he finally left the detachment it was still 2022, but just barely.

“I walked out and then I looked up and the fireworks were going off,” he said.

“But, with how the stars aligned, we were very lucky. And, in what is the highlight of my career, my son — who is working as a paramedic — was one of the paramedics who went on the rescue with me.

“This is a story I’ll be telling my grandchildren about someday.”

And Stark said the best thing of all is how the woman is doing.

“From my understanding, she is doing quite well. I have talked to family members who are very familiar with her situation and they say she is very appreciative of what we did,” he said.

“This good news story makes all members feel good. It may not be our core mandate, but when the chips are down, we are there for you.”


Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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