‘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

Buccaneers pillage Irish 36-0

Central Alberta bounces back after off week against Wolfpack

Lacombe business drives home with CARS Magazine 2019 Shop of the Year Award

Lacombe Auto Service Centre Ltd. looking to keep evolving with industry

Lacombe Corn Maze celebrates 20 years in central Alberta

Kraay Family Farms will be celebrating the occasion all season

Lacombe’s Chairs for Charity is back for second year

75 chairs to be auctioned off in hopes of raising $10,000

Community mourns the deaths of two Maskwacis toddlers

Siblings found drowned on family’s property

WATCH: Lacombe AUPE members picket against Bill 9

Union members say their constitutional rights have been ignored

A year later, ceremony commemorates victims of the Danforth shooting

It’s the one-year anniversary of when a man opened fire along the bustling street before shooting and killing himself

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Alberta judge denies B.C.’s bid to block ‘Turn Off the Taps’ bill

He said the proper venue for the disagreement is Federal Court

Sexual harassment complaints soaring amid ‘frat boy culture’ in Canada’s airline industry

‘It’s a #MeToo dumpster fire…and it’s exhausting for survivors’

How much do you know about the moon?

To mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, see how well you know space

Bashaw seed cleaning plant holds official opening

New facility operating well since January

Couple found dead along northern B.C. highway in double homicide

Woman from the U.S. and man from Australia found dead near Liard Hot Springs

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages

Most Read