News Local

Firefighters keep hospital route open

David Pattenaude

The Petrolia Topic

Keeping Petrolia Line open during the winter storm was a priority for volunteer members of the Petrolia and North Enniskillen Fire Department.

Petrolia Line and Plank Road is a major hospital route connecting Petrolia's Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital and rural Lambton County with Bluewater Health's Sarnia hospital.

Firefighter Tim Williams, an Enniskillen Township farmer with a John Deere tractor, mobilized other farmers with tractors and they helped firefighters clear Petrolia Line (County Road 4) and check stranded vehicles. They rescued 50 motorists and brought them to a warming station at the Oil Heritage and District Community Centre. An ambulance that had gotten stuck was also pulled out.

Firefighters used snowmobiles, 4x4 trucks, ATVs and heavy firetrucks to make emergency medical calls and check on ditched vehicles along Petrolia area roads. Some motorists were suffering from frostbite.

When the storm was at its worst, CEE Hospital was running out of medications for in-patients and a Canadian Coast Guard vehicle from Sarnia with a fresh supply - and a nurse - could go no further than just east of Mandaumin Road, where zero visibility and heavy drifting made further travel east impossible.

Fire Chief Lawrence Swift said a squad of firefighters on snowmobiles went to the ambulance for the medications and brought the nurse and medications to CEE Hospital.

By mid-day Tuesday, firefighters had cleared a one-lane path on Petrolia Line for emergency vehicles.

Early Tuesday morning, the department made a medical emergency call to Marthaville, where a woman was having difficulty breathing.

An ambulance couldn't reach the house, so the fire department sent a team of snowmobiles, a 4X4 truck, a tractor and a firetruck tanker. The tanker got stuck in a snowdrift and when the team could only get within a half-kilometre of the house, some started to walk the rest of the way toward the house.

But Williams, driving a tractor, plowed a road for Deputy Chief Dave Connors, who then got his 4x4 to the house. Medical attention was given to the woman, who was brought to CEE Hospital.

Reaching the woman's home took an hour.

"I'm proud of our men and the many community members who helped," said Swift. "People are usually at their best when things are at their worst."

Some firefighters were brought to the firehall by other firefighters who had snowmobiles. Many of them stayed at the firehall or at the warming centre overnight because they couldn't go home.

Some people were evacuated from their homes and the town did a great job plowing roads, said Swift.

With the fire department's erection of barricades and road closure signs and stopping of outbound travel from Petrolia, it was "...spooky, like a Stephen King novel, where people were being kept in town," he said.