News

Ambulance crew finds locked beach access on water emergency call

Dec 18, 2017 Culture

Neighbors in the Boggy Sands Road corridor told Cayman 27 the response to Sunday's (17 December) water-distress incident was complicated by lack of access. One witness said paramedics had to physically lift the victim over a chain link fence because the nearest public beach access right of way was locked. Part of Boggy Sands' inherent charm - the picturesque yet narrow, dead-end road - is also apparently a hindrance to first responders: there's no room for emergency vehicles to turn around. Sunday, witnesses described an ambulance reversing down the entire length of Boggy Sands road just to get close to their patient. Upon arrival at the nearest beach access pathway, paramedics encountered another obstacle: a locked gate. In an emergency scenario, a minute can mean the difference between life and death. Beach access activist Morne Botes said he watched as paramedics who responded to reports of a man having difficulty in the water Sunday losing precious time to factors outside their control. "Yesterday's response was just far too slow, the ambulance had to reverse all the way to here, and when they got here they couldn't access the gentleman on the beach," said Mr. Botes. The ambulance parked just feet away from a public beach access right of way that has been locked and gated for more than two years. Mr. Botes told Cayman 27 EMTs were forced to improvise to render aid. "The paramedics had to jump the fence to meet the gentleman, then they had to carry the stretcher over this man's private property again, because he has a little gate and a little fence there," said Mr. Botes. "It really does come down to a safety issue, timing is everything in some emergencies," said Julie Soar, who owns property on Boggy Sands Road. Ms. Soar told Cayman 27 the locked gate is more than just a nuisance for would-be beach goers looking for fun in the sun. "If somebody is in distress in the water or on the beach, they need to be able to get, just know where those accesses are, and be able to get down to the beach as soon as possible, rather than getting down here and looking around and trying to figure out where they can cross the property," said Ms. Soar. "This is what happens then, people can lose their lives because the emergency services can't access them quick enough," said Mr. Botes. Mr. Botes said he reached out to elected officials and government ministers about these very issues back in October. He said he hopes Sunday's EMS response will prompt swift action from policy makers. "We can't wait any longer, because this is the high season, all the tourists are coming, this beach is going to be packed over Christmas and new year's, we can't risk people's lives just because politicians are dragging their feet. Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers, who oversees the fire service in her portfolio and is the elected member for West Bay South, sent a statement.

"I have spoken publicly about my concerns regarding the issue of beach access most recently during my debate on the 2018-2019 Budget in the LA. Prior to that I had also liaised with the Ministries of Planning and Lands, respectively, regarding the same in the hopes that the issue can be resolved (as necessary) as quickly as possible. This is a grave concern for me and appropriate action must be taken ASAP," said Ms. Rivers via text message.

Cayman Islands Fire Services Chief David Hails praised the work of first responders on the scene in the joint response to the water-distress call.

"This was a joint response by EMS and Fire and once again the team work and coordinated actions carried out by the two agencies resulted in the incident being brought to a successful conclusion," said Mr. Hails.

The Health Services Authority also issued a statement on the Sunday response to the water distress call:

"Upon assessment of the patient, it was determined by the EMS Crew, that it would be logistically more appropriate to move the Ambulance around to the Boggy Sand Rd. area due to the location of the patient. At this point the Fire dept. assisted with the Ambulance relocation. Emergency personnel are aware that Emergency Units must be staged in a capacity of a) safety & b) the ability to leave in a timely manner (ease of exit) without obstruction. Hence the Fire officer operating the unit chose to reverse the unit staging appropriately vs having the possible inability to do so thereafter," said a spokesperson in an email.

The HSA added that a gate was unlocked at some point during the response, and that the locked gate did not hinder access to the patient, or cause a delayed response.