‘It still knocks you down:’ First responders reflect on Humboldt Broncos crash

First anniversary of the crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others is on April 6

Brian Starkell, Chief of the Nipawin Fire department in Nipawin, Sask., poses for a photo in Niagara Falls, Ont. on Sunday March 31, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton)

When Brian Starkell drives a particular stretch of highway in Saskatchewan, his stomach drops as he approaches the intersection that changed so many lives.

The Nipawin fire chief says he still has flashbacks to the 911 call that came in just after 5 p.m. last April 6. A semi-trailer and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team had collided at the crossroads of Highways 35 and 335.

“It doesn’t matter how strong a person can be. It still knocks you down a bit,” Starkell says, choking back tears.

“We are blessed. We go home at night. We go back to our families, where those folks can’t.”

READ MORE: ‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Nearly every first responder in the area rushed to the site that night. Many say the horrific scene has stayed with them.

The bus was flipped on its side. Its front end was completely missing and its roof torn off. Hockey bags were strewn among the wreckage, along with bales of peat moss the truck had been hauling.

And there were the dead and injured.

Fourteen people on the bus died at the scene. Two later died in hospital. Thirteen others were injured, including two players who were left paralyzed.

“We did our job up there. But, of course, it’s still the families that suffered the most. And I don’t think we will ever get over that,” Starkell says.

Nipawin’s fire hall is about 25 kilometres from the crash site. Firefighters drive by the intersection on a regular basis while working or taking their own kids to sports games, the chief says. They often stop and take a moment at a makeshift memorial of crosses set up on the corner.

First responders were given support in the weeks and months after the collision. Starkell says a few firefighters took time off to deal with what happened. One still has not returned.

RCMP also provided mental-health services to officers throughout a lengthy investigation and the subsequent court case against the truck driver. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu of Calgary was recently sentenced to eight years for dangerous driving. Court heard he blew through a stop sign at the intersection directly into the path of the hockey bus.

“The collision, our first response, the investigation, and the court proceedings have all had an impact on those who had a role in the RCMP’s response to this tragedy,” RCMP spokesman Cpl. Rob King said in an email.

“This includes not only our front-line officers who responded to the scene, but the many others who supported them and their efforts.

“It touched every corner of our country and left an impression well outside Canadian borders.”

Some paramedics also took time off but have all returned to work, said Jessica Brost, general manager of North East EMS. She wishes others had also been able to take a break.

“You kind of almost wish you could pause the EMS life for awhile and have things really slow down, but of course summer kicked in and things got really busy.”

Over the last year, some paramedics have opened their doors to community members who were at the scene to help each other shoulder the memories and the grief. Brost said it’s important to be able to talk with someone who understands what it was like on the road that evening.

“They know the actual feeling — the sight and the sound and just how overwhelming that whole situation was,” she said, holding back tears. “It’s indescribable, even though many of us have been in EMS for a long time.”

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Temporary wet housing facility opening in downtown Kelowna

Temporary shelter will be operated by volunteer group Welcome Inn in partnership with BC Housing

Water services return to Big White Ski Resort

Hundreds of people were without water for more than 24 hours after a main ruptured on Monday

Impairment a possible factor in Kelowna Tim Hortons crash: RCMP

One person inside the restaurant suffered minor injuries

Montreal Canadiens stars lend helping hand to Kelowna charity

John Perlinger hopes his signed portrait of Shea Weber and Carey Price will boost new website

Hospice House launches new website to support families seeking end of life care

The new website is already proving to be very helpful for families

B.C. woman charged in connection to stolen vehicle smash-up in Kamloops

Kersten Ina Peters was arrested in the Fraser Valley on Friday, Dec. 6

Tavares scores twice as Maple Leafs earn 4-1 win over Canucks

Vancouver sees two-game win streak snapped

UPDATED: No survivors in Gabriola Island plane crash: RCMP

Coroner confirms multiple fatalities after small plane goes down Tuesday night near Nanaimo

VIDEO: Harbour Air makes history with first electric aircraft test flight

Successful flight marks first of its kind in the world

The Grinch who Stole a Hedge: Security camera captures Chilliwack tree theft

RCMP arrives as person calmly walks away with tree in downtown area

Salmonella outbreak in Canada linked to rodents and snakes

92 cases of salmonella across six provinces, including B.C.

Meng Wanzhou wins right to more documents involving arrest at Vancouver airport

Defence lawyers allege the Huawei executive was unlawfully detained, searched and interrogated

RCMP traffic services moves to Falkland to slow speeders

Falkland detachment to serve as new HQ for RCMP’s North Okanagan Traffic Services

Most Read