The little ambulance that couldn’t

Tara MacIsaac doesn't want to think about what could have happened to her baby. For the Beaver Creek mother, the worst-case scenario is just too terrifying.

Tara MacIsaac doesn’t want to think about what could have happened to her baby.

For the Beaver Creek mother, the worst-case scenario is just too terrifying.

On Friday morning, MacIsaac’s seven-month-old daughter woke up with a fever.

The little girl had been sick and coughing for several weeks.

But the fever was new.

At the community nursing station, MacIsaac was told her baby needed to be medevaced.

But weather wouldn’t allow the plane to land.

So the mother and daughter were loaded into Beaver Creek’s ambulance along with a nurse.

“The lights were on and we were ready to go when I heard this tap, tap, tap,” said MacIsaac.

It was the sound of the gas peddle hitting the floor.

“Nothing was happening,” she said.

The ambulance didn’t move.

The air ambulance was Plan A, said MacIsaac, who was a volunteer ambulance attendant in Watson Lake before moving to Beaver Creek.

“When it couldn’t land we moved to Plan B, the ground ambulance,” she said.

When that also failed, MacIsaac and her husband loaded their tiny daughter into their own vehicle and started the six-hour drive to Whitehorse.

The ambulance technician and the nurse followed in the community-nursing vehicle, in case there were complications.

When MacIsaac first moved to the territory, she was impressed by the quality of health care.

“Especially in the communities,” she said.

And even when the ambulance malfunctioned, MacIsaac wasn’t worried.

“Because I knew my daughter was stable,” she said.

“But I can’t stop thinking about the what ifs.”

This is not the first time Beaver Creek’s ambulance has had problems.

“In the last two years it has broken down four to six times,” said MacIsaac.

“And that is grossly negligent.”

The ambulance had “snags,” said emergency medical services director Nicholas Tilgner.

At one point a light bar failed.

Another time the electrical system had problems.

“And electrical problems can be hard to find, because they’re intermittent,” he said.

Most recently, there was a stalling issue, said Tilgner.

Emergency medical services learned about the stalling problems on January 27.

Six days later, it started to prep another ambulance to send to Beaver Creek.

And by February 9, the ambulance was ready to go, he said. But the department wasn’t sure how to swap out the vehicles.

“We didn’t want to put our transfer crews at risk,” said Tilgner.

If the faulty ambulance stalled on its way to Whitehorse that could be a danger for whoever is driving it, especially in these cold temperatures, he said.

So Tilgner decided to switch the ambulances using a flatbed tow truck.

But that still hadn’t happened by February 11, when MacIsaac and her daughter were loaded into the malfunctioning vehicle, hoping to make a trip that Tilgner deemed too dangerous for his transfer crews.

“It really was bad timing,” said Tilgner.

The other ambulance was going to be delivered that same day, he said.

Part of the problem is that vehicles are not driven very often in the smaller communities, said Tilgner, who’s considering some kind of rotation for the vehicles.

Last year, Beaver Creek’s ambulance got a total of 19 calls.

There are less than 100 people in Beaver Creek, said MacIsaac.

“But that doesn’t mean that any one of our community members are any less important.

“And my daughter is the smallest, most helpless member of the community.

“If she can’t count on emergency services to be there, who can?”

Beaver Creek is on a very dangerous stretch of highway, added MacIsaac.

The road sees loads of trucks heading to Alaska, and lots of tourists in the summer.

“And we were lucky my daughter was stable,” she said.

“But it could have been anybody – a motor vehicle accident or someone with a heart attack … I don’t even want to go there.

“I’m just very thankful it wasn’t a different situation.”

Contact Genesee Keevil a