Smoke from a wildfire sparked behind Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital on Tuesday was visible across the City of Trail. Investigators suspect the blaze was human-caused. (Guy Bertrand photo)

Trail wildfire re-surfaces need for second hospital road

” … the second access is seen to be an important improvement,” said Trail Mayor Mike Martin.

Emergency response to a wildfire behind the Trail hospital came together like a well-oiled machine.

There are no reports of injury and the aggressive blaze was kept at bay Tuesday night so there were no structures threatened due to coordinated multi-agency tactics.

What is back on the radar, however, is the fact that there is only one road into the regional hospital – and it was shut down for six-or-so hours.

Notably, Trail police monitored access and guided 20+ essential service personnel, primarily night shift RNs, up the hill to the hospital’s front doors.

However, incoming patients for emergency room care, were re-directed to the Castlegar and District Community Health Centre (Castlegar hospital), which stayed open late to meet those needs.

“Given the unpredictability of the situation early on, the hospital and Poplar Ridge Pavilion were making preliminary preparations for a worst-case scenario, which would have meant evacuating the site,” said Interior Health spokesperson Karl Hardt.

“Our staff, physicians and leadership in Trail, Castlegar, and across the Kootenay Boundary really stepped up to ensure patients continued to get the care they needed and prepared for any eventuality during this unpredictable and fast-moving situation.”

Interestingly, Mayor Mike Martin says a secondary access “has always been viewed as a limitation.”

* Correction: The topic of a secondary road did come up at the UBCM this week in a meeting between the City of Trail and the province. Original story stated it did not.

“There has always been a recognition that having more than one access route to a major medical facility is the preferred service approach,” he told the Trail Times.

“With that said, there have been very few occasions over many decades that access has been totally restricted and even with the fire situation, the road was passable for emergencies.”

In Whistler for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference this week, Martin met with the Minister of Health over multi-million dollar hospital upgrades, and the topic of a secondary road did come up.

”We did again raise the matter, both verbally and in our briefing note, in the context of the province advancing the next two phases of the Sustainability Plan which, in our view would then secure the future of the hospital for many years,” Martin clarified.

”There is a well understood linkage between the city advancing the construction of the second access road and the province providing long term certainty of our hospital through the advancement of the total Sustainability Plan (Emergency, Ambulatory Care and Pharmacy upgrades). Advancing all three elements of the Sustainability plan would provide us with that certainty and allow us to have the comfort to proceed with another significant capital project.”

In 2014, the City of Trail sought $2.3 million from a provincial/federal program to build a secondary road to Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH). The grant was denied, as was an application for federal dollars through the New Building Canada Fund the following year. The latter submission was turned down because traffic volume to the hospital was said to be less than 3,000 traffic movements per day.

Coincidentally, shortly after the city was denied the federal grant in 2015, an emergency lockdown at St. Michael’s Catholic School and JL Crowe forced police to close the road. That abrupt shutdown lasted for 30 minutes the afternoon of May 8.

RCMP Cpl. Darryl Orr was at the scene and later commented on the unexpected fallout – heavy traffic congestion.

“Nobody realizes how many people are going up there during the day,” Orr told the Times. “It’s amazing the number of vehicles and people heading up there – and leaving – at any given time of the day.”

City council has always maintained that a second road would not only create another access, but would improve traffic circulation and pedestrian safety for high school students and users of the hospital.

Another road could also provide an opportunity to create more parking, which is desperately needed especially with a $19-million emergency room expansion ready to break ground.

“Council continues to advocate for improvements to KBRH as part of solidifying the hospital as the regional hospital,” Martin said. “With the recent decision to proceed with emergency department upgrades, the issue of the road will need to be considered again and will likely be a high priority for the next council,” he added.

“The position of the city has always been if there is long-term certainty associated with KBRH remaining the regional hospital, that the road and other supporting municipal infrastructure will then become a municipal priority that recognizes the importance of the facility to the some 80,000 people that live in the catchment area.”

Back to the wildfire on Tuesday night, coordinated response included Interior Health activating its own emergency plan.

“Road access was limited for a brief time during the early stages of the incident, but people were not kept at the hospital very long if they were discharged,” Hardt said. “Until we had the all-clear that the hospital would not be directly impacted by the fire, and to limit traffic through the emergency response teams on the hill, day shift staff stayed on a bit longer, but it was only about 30 minutes past normal shift change. RCMP did a great job getting people through safely and appropriately.”

Hardt could not confirm if any ambulance transfers went to Castlegar that normally would have gone to Trail.

“We’d like to thank everyone involved in the response, including Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Chief Dan Derby and Trail fire department, Southeast RCMP, BC Wildfire Service, BC Ambulance, City of Trail, and regional district for their immediate and fantastic response,” he said. “Trail Transit even had buses on standby for us in the event it did become an evacuation situation.”

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