The quick actions of two local firefighters could be the reason that a mom and her two kids survived a case of suspected carbon-monoxide poisoning on Boxing Day in Abbotsford.
Cathy Van-Martin, a captain with the Burnaby Fire Department, and her wife Krista Harris, with Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service (AFRS), were off duty on the evening of Dec. 26 when they were driving toward their home in Abbotsford.
They were heading west in the 33700 block of Clayburn Road not far from their residence when they spotted a car resting against a railing at about 8:20 p.m.
Van-Martin said the Toyota Corolla was running and there was a “lot of exhaust” spewing from the vehicle.
The couple immediately sensed that something wasn’t right, and they pulled in a few feet behind the Toyota.
They weren’t sure if anyone was in the vehicle – there were no streetlights in the area and the exhaust was partly obscuring their view.
“We discussed, as we were walking up, that we better be careful because we thought it was carbon monoxide, but it could have been something else,” Van-Martin said.
They carried a flashlight and held their breaths to keep from inhaling the toxic fumes as they approached the vehicle and, finding the doors locked, smashed in the windows with a hammer.
They discovered two small children in the back seat and a woman in the driver’s seat, all unresponsive.
That’s when the pair’s years of training and experience – 26 years for Van-Martin and 16 years for Harris – quickly kicked in full force.
Harris pulled out one of the children – later found to be five years old – while Van-Martin grabbed the second one, age 3, and laid them down on the roadway, with their car’s headlights illuminating the scene.
Van-Martin immediately began performing “rescue breathing” using a “pocket mask” on the younger child, while Harris pulled the woman from the vehicle. She then returned to the older child to begin life-saving measures.
They also called 911, as did a passerby who had pulled over. The pair asked the man to direct traffic as they continued their emergency efforts.
An AFRS engine arrived on the scene quickly, and treatment began on the woman.
A second fire engine arrived, as did an ambulance, and Van-Martin estimates the first victim was on the way to hospital within 10 minutes.
The trio were initially pronounced in critical condition but that was upgraded to serious condition within a few days. The mom and the five-year-old were released from hospital on Thursday of this week.
The three-year-old remains in hospital in stable condition and is expected to be released early next week. Police say all three have a “positive” prognosis.
Van-Martin said she and Harris were “really happy” to hear the good news.
“They’ve been in our thoughts a lot,” she said.
Van-Martin credits everyone at the scene for the joyful outcome, as well as for the medical personnel caring for the trio in the hospital: “They must have worked a miracle.”
She is quick to dismiss any notions that she and Harris are heroes.
“For me, it was a combination of the right place and the right time,” Van-Martin said. “We did what we would have done as firefighters if we were on the job.”
Abbotsford Police Sgt. Judy Bird said earlier this week that an inspection of the Toyota Corolla will have to be conducted to find the source of the leak.