By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
Emergency personnel who responded to a boating accident last Saturday said some complaints made by witnesses are unfounded.
"There's a lot of things that go on in an emergency situation that to the untrained eye aren't right, when in reality these are trained professionals who are following procedure," said Chief Ranger Scott Wanek of National Park Service.
A similar response came from the U.S. Coast Guard, who responded to the scene.
"I know how to go through the steps," said BM2 Marc Evans of the Coast Guard, an emergency medical technician. "I could have approached the scene really rushed and chaotic myself and then nothing would have gone right."
The incident began Saturday morning when a boat carrying Marion Carlton and Tom Cormany capsized off South Beach. Witnesses standing on the beach called 911 and were able to assist the men to shore.
Carlton survived the ordeal but Cormany, who was knocked unconscious by the surf-tossed aluminum boat, died apparently by drowning.
The first complaint made by the witnesses was that emergency personnel were slow to respond.
According to police records, witness Rocky Snider made the initial 911 call from his cellular phone. Cmdr. Tony Luis of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department said all 911 cellular phone calls go directly to the California Highway Patrol first. In the Del Norte County area, these calls normally go through the Humboldt County office first.
"The reason for this is because emergency cell calls are usually highway related and the CHP would respond initially anyway," Luis said. "This is done statewide and they are trying to change that now. But people should still use it."
Monty Soulis, the Highway Patrol's public safety dispatcher in Humboldt, said without searching through tapes of the calls he cannot identify exactly when the call came in.
"The dispatchers are required to log some information but they don't have time to write down everything," said Soulis. "Without sitting down and going through the tapes, it would be hard to tell when the call came in."
According to the Sheriff Department log, the 911 call was received there at 11:19 a.m. Lt. Justin Kimura of the U.S. Coast Guard was then notified.
"I received the call at home at around 11:30 and paged the crew to come in," said Kimura. "We were on the scene in less than 15 minutes from the time I received the call at home."
A second complaint by witnesses is that a park ranger who arrived on scene spent too much time in his truck speaking on the phone and did not know how to use his medical equipment.
Because the ranger was out of town yesterday and could not be contacted, Wanek read from the ranger's report for information. And without getting permission from the ranger first, Wanek said it was park policy not to identify him.
"According to his report, he was going to check on fishing permits in the area when he was flagged down by pedestrians," said Wanek. "He was never dispatched."
Wanek said after the ranger arrived he was uncertain of the status of the incident, so he made two radio calls for an ambulance and for fire department response.
"He didn't know if any contact had been made yet," said Wanek. "He had to cover all his bases and get people rolling before he did anything else. You wouldn't want to begin emergency life assistance unless you know the proper agencies have been notified and are on their way."
In regard to the ranger improperly using his medical equipment, specifically a safety mask used during CPR, Wanek said the ranger followed procedures exactly.
"It wasn't about a safety mask though. It was about the oral pharyngeal airway," Wanek said about a device the ranger used to clear Cormany's airway. "Somebody made a comment he was putting it in upside-down, but that's the way it is supposed to be inserted."
Evans, who also administered oxygen and CPR to Cormany, said the ranger used the device properly.
"The only way you can insert it is at a horizontal angle or upside-down. You rotate it only after it is in place," said Evans.
The last witness complaint was that there was a general disorganization, which resulted in some medical supplies being washed out in the surf.
"We are on our knees working on the patient with our backs to the water and a wave came up and washed our bag away," said Evans. "We thought we were a good distance from the water but you don't focus on something like that. People may have been yelling, but I am working on the patient."
In the final analysis, Kimura, Evans and Wanek said personnel from all the agencies did what was expected of them.
"From everything I see, it looks like everybody out there did what they were supposed to do," said Wanek. "In a scene like that there's always some chaos around the edges, but I think all the agencies involved responded properly. It's just unfortunate about the outcome in this particular case."
"It was a chaotic situation and a lot of people running around ¬Ė there was probably 20 people on the beach," said Evans. "You have to have a situational awareness, which is what I call it."