Capital Health and IWK stage mock disaster

Medical authorities at both Capital Health and IWK are happy with the results of the exercise, but say more work needs to be done on decontamination processes.

By Paul Rebar

An orderly leans over a newly-arrived casualty, dressing the fake bone sticking out of her leg.

The casualty is wheeled towards the operating bay, where she hops off the stretcher. An operating mannequin with an identical injury takes her place and is hurried through the doors.

In another room a doctor examines a line of patients sitting with chemical burn marks painted on their faces.

The scenario: a tanker truck full of pesticides has collided with a bus in a busy downtown intersection. The result? Seventy-six casualties. Capital Heath and the IWK Health Centre must efficiently handle the “Code Orange” level disaster.

The exercise

“The goal with this kind of thing is not to get it perfect but to meet the challenge,” says Capital Health Exercise Director Dr. Carl Jarvis. “It gives us an idea what our capability is.”

As a result of the simulation Capital Health now has decontamination facilities that could handle an actual disaster of this scale.  Jarvis compares this exercise to Halifax hosting the Canada Winter Games in 2010, which left the city with the Halifax Oval.

“We agreed to do this exercise eight months ago, so the whole previous six months have been leading up to this.”

Jarvis is a lot more confident after the exercise, although he says recruiting and training more people for the “decon” procedure is a top priority.  Over the course of the simulation the nine specialists at Capital Health had no one to relieve them, which meant they had to work nonstop for three hours in sweltering hazmat suits.

IWK ran into a similar problem. They had six specialists and only seven suits to work with.  This means only one specialist could be relieved at a time in a real disaster; the suits need to be decontaminated before they can be worn again.

“Let’s say we respond to an event that lasts for seven hours, we don’t have the capacity to deal with that,” says IWK Exercise Director Dr. Vered Gazit.

Despite the shortage of specialists and equipment, Gazit says that this time last year IWK couldn’t have responded to a single decon patient.  The exercise also streamlined the triage process from taking a few minutes per  patient to only about 30 seconds.


Volunteer Carol Hughes, 60, played three scenarios over the course of the exercise at Capital Health.  First she was a patient with minor injuries, then a family member whose husband had been a casualty, and finally a passerby who had pulled someone from the wreckage and started having breathing problems.

“I thought in the ER they really seemed to know what they were doing,” says Hughes, whose son, a member of the Canadian Forces, persuaded her to take part in the mock disaster.

Hughes says the process would still be hard for the casualties’ family members, since they would have no way of knowing if they were dead or alive.

“There’s nothing [the emergency personnel] can do about that when [there are] so many casualties.”

In all, 57 planners, 45 health care providers, 10 Canadian Forces personnel (who took the opportunity to train with their civilian counterparts) and 112 community volunteers participated in the event.  This made it one of the largest medical exercises ever attempted in Nova Scotia.

St. Patrick’s Day quieter than expected

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day was quieter than most, owing to freezing weather and the fact that it fell on a Sunday.

By Paul Rebar

Casual business at The Loose Cannon. (Paul Rebar Photo)

This year’s St. Patrick’s Day was quieter than most. It was freezing cold outside and it fell on  a Sunday.

Like many Canadians, Haligonians have a tradition of celebrating the day by heading downtown for a pub crawl.

The drinking establishments are always well-stocked for the event.

“St. Patrick’s Day is our biggest sales day of the year,” Old Triangle co-owner Cheryl Doherty told Metro on March 14.

“We do have a big breakfast, and we have our food menu, but it is really a drinking day for the most part.”

While there was no shortage of leprechaun hats, shamrock tattoos and idling police wagons, downtown stayed relatively quiet. Only a few bars like Durty Nelly’s, The Triangle and The Lower Deck had lines out front.

Police Response

“We compared St. Patrick’s day to a busy Friday,” said Const. Pierre Bourdages in a phone interview.

“There was nothing particularly out of the ordinary.”

The police responded to 47 liquor offences, nine noise complaints, three assaults and two disturbances (fights, brawls, or domestic violence).  In total there were 183 calls.

At 2:30 a.m., police responded to a head-on collision involving a 58-year-old female taxi driver and an alcohol-impaired 29-year-old man in a BMW.  The taxi driver is in hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries.  A 32-year-old female passenger who was in the back of the BMW (which had five other occupants) is in a similar condition.

Partiers brave the cold outside The Lower Deck. (Paul Rebar photo)

The last arrest was at 6:20 a.m. on Lower Water Street.  An unidentified man had passed out on the sidewalk and was taken in for public intoxication. Const. Bourdages says this was mainly for his own protection from the cold.

By comparison, last year’s St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday. It resulted in 38 liquor offences, 33 noise complaints, one assault and five disturbances, with 195 calls in total.

Const. Bourdages agrees the minus 20 degree weather with wind chill might have had something to do with the lower number of pub crawlers.

“My guess is that people would have preferred to party at home,” he says.

Related audio


Interview with Durty Nelly’s employee, Justin.

University of King’s College student Colton Gavel and his friends did just that, although to them it was more about staying cost-effective.

“Honestly, I found it much more frugal to just go to a friend’s house and have house parties,” said Gavel.

“The whole point of St. Paddy’s Day is to drink, and I would rather not do it downtown but do it with friends in an environment where I can still talk to people.”


Preston Street house fire caused by misused fireplace

Fire investigators said Monday that a St. Patrick’s Day house fire sparked as a result of an uncontrolled fire in a decorative fireplace.

By Paul Rebar

Flame damage was clearly visible Monday to the roof of a building that caught fire on St. Patrick's Day. (Paul Rebar photo)

Fire investigators said Monday that a St. Patrick’s Day house fire started as a result of an uncontrolled fire in a fireplace.

According to Division Chief Stephen Nearing, the fireplace was more for decoration and than fire.

Property manager Anna Brown figured this to be the case while watching from the sidewalk Sunday evening.

“That’s what the tenant inside at the time told me,” said Brown.

Smoke started billowing from the roof of 1977 Preston Street at about 7:30 Sunday evening.

Halifax Regional Firefighters work to put out the flames of a house fire Sunday evening. (Paul Rebar photo)

Four Dalhousie University students are homeless because of the fire. Only one was home when the fire started. They got out safely.

While the blaze was not serious, it took firefighters nearly 45 minutes to control.

The fire caused significant smoke and flame damage to the inside of the flat but didn’t spread to the neighbouring houses despite a strong wind.

Comic books still hold appeal in digital age

It’s a tough market for media. But you wouldn’t know it looking at comic sales.

By Paul Rebar

It’s a tough market for media. But you wouldn’t know it looking at comic book sales.

It’s no secret that file sharing, digital distribution and torrent websites are bringing spiraling changes to books, movies, TV shows, and video games.

Comic books on the other hand are more popular than ever, with retailers like Halifax’s own Monster Comic Lounge and Strange Adventures seeing more fans flock through their doors than they have in years.

ComiXology, the main distribution platform for digital comics, was the third highest paid iPad app of 2012, reaching 100 million downloads in October.  DC Comic’s digital sales went up nearly 200 percent the same year, helped in large part by the company releasing its entire library to Kindle, iBook, and NOOK formats.  This doesn’t take free torrent downloads into account.

Print sales

In 2002, the entire North American market size was estimated at $300 to $330 million. A decade later, it’s sitting at approximately $700 to $730 million. And still climbing.

“It’s an industry that’s booming,” says Mike Crossman, owner of Monster Comic Lounge on Gottingen street.

Enthusiasts like Crossman chalk up the sudden popularity of comics (both digital and print) to shows like The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory, alongside top-grossing movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. A July 2012 article by Publisher’s Weekly reported that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter also play a huge role in promoting new series and storylines, as was the case of DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011.

Jay Roy of Strange Adventures believes that digital distribution itself is helping to boost print sales, since downloading first issues makes it easier for potential fans to get into a series before committing to it.

I think it’s a good way to draw people in,” says Roy. “But generally if people read comics, they still want to own that hardcover and put it on their shelf.  So, even if they’re not getting the single issues like some of our comic account people, they’ll still maybe read it online but then they’ll come out and get the hard copy.”

There’s a collectible aspect that you just can’t replace with digital comics,” says Crossman.  “If you could have every comic on the computer, it’s worthless.  No one’s going to give you a penny for it.  If I have every Spider Man comic from the start to present, that’s a tangible asset.”

Both Crossman and Roy explain that a majority of customers are adults who’ve been buying comic books since their childhood, to the point where collecting them has simply become a hobby.

“People just love the paper, still,” says Roy. “You can’t get an artist to sign your iPad.”