An accident at Fraser Downs racetrack on Sunday left two injured drivers lying on the track for 20 minutes before paramedics arrived.
The incident left some questioning the effectiveness of safety protocols currently in place at the track.
On Sunday afternoon, standardbred Mach Majorette made a bad break out of the starting gate in Race 7. One of the wheels of the sulky (the two-wheeled cart pulled behind the horse that carries the driver) was caught by the wheel of another cart, spilling driver Keith Dicks onto the track.
Dicks, who was seriously injured in the incident,has since undergone major surgeries for a broken hip and a broken knee — both of which had to be replaced. He also fractured his left shoulder, broke his wrist and multiple ribs, and sustained a concussion.
As of Thursday morning, Dicks remained at Surrey Memorial Hospital, surgery on his shoulder. His doctors are still assessing what the best treatment will be for his broken wrist.
Despite this, Dicks is “in good spirits,” according to Carla Robin, executive director of Harness Racing BC.
John Abbott, driving RD Billie, was also injured in the accident. He sustained a separated shoulder and some damage to soft tissue and muscle. He was released from medical care with his arm in a sling.
“The two of them have very positive attitudes,” said Robin.
Injuries are always a possibility when working in what Robin said could be called an “extreme sport.”
Mach Majorette had never made a break before Sunday’s race. But accidents happen, even to drivers like Dicks who are lifelong horsemen.
What happens next, however, is down to the safety protocols put in place by the track operator, the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC), Robin said, and the response time on Sunday was “not as good as it could have been.”
According to Robin, it took approximately 20 minutes for B.C. Ambulance Services to reach the injured men on the track. She said there was a delay in calling 911and when Surrey Fire and B.C. Ambulance arrived, their drivers were unsure of how to reach the track, first responding to the front of Elements Casino, and then to a parking lot alongside the track.
“Someone had to drive out with a pickup truck to guide them,” said Robin.
The emergency vehicles also reportedly had problems getting up and over the lip of the track itself, as the build-up of the track surface made it difficult to do so.
“The track operator is responsible for ensuring that the drivers and horses are safe,” said Robin. “Great Canadian is responsible for having a proper protocol in place.”
When the accident occurred, two first-aid attendants attended saw to the injured, using a cube van stocked with medical supplies, but they were unable to move the men.
Both Dicks and Abbott, meanwhile, lay immobile on the track. Dicks, due to his injuries, could not move, while Abbott, not realizing the extent of his own injuries, had tried to move away from the danger posed by the loose horses and passed out.
One of those loose horses kicked Dicks while he was down, cracking his helmet.
Horsemen jumped the fence of the track to look after the horses following the incident. “They took that into their own hands,” said Robin, noting that they had the experience to contain the loose horses, which can be dangerous.
One horse was a “little banged up” from the accident, but did not sustain any injuries that would endanger its career, according to Robin.
For an “extreme sport,”as Robin called it, harness racing at Fraser Downs does not often have serious accidents. There hasn’t been a serious injury since October 2015, when driver Rick White sustained four broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
Robin said Harness Racing BC’s paramount concernis to ensure that the minimum safety requirements are not only met but exceeded, due to the risk present.
She noted that “having paramedics in place would be wonderful,” but said that safety equipment and staffing decisions are the responsibility of GCGC.
The Great Canadian Gaming Corporation did not respond to questions asked by the Cloverdale Reporter. Instead, Darren MacDonald, director of racing operations in B.C. for GCGC, sent the following statement:
“We take the safety of everyone at Fraser Downs very seriously, and especially those that participate in racing. As part of that commitment, during all races at Fraser Downs, there are two first aid attendants (Occupational First Aid Level 2 and Occupational First Aid Level 3) available to assist with any accidents that may occur during a race.
“As a precaution, the OFA level 3 attendant is always stationed at the centre of the racetrack so that he/she can monitor the area and be as close as possible to the potential scene of an accident. The accident that occurred on Feb. 4th was immediately attended by both first aid attendants on-site (sic) and an ambulance was called right after the incident occurred.
“We cannot speculate or speak to the reasons why the ambulance did not arrive any earlier, but our primary obligation and responsibility during any such incident is to care for the injured and deploy all of our first-aid measures until the ambulance personnel arrive.”