Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

Joel Gallant is quick on his seat. Actually, that’s just a turn of the phrase considering Gallant was on his feet on July 12 when he made a first of its kind rescue from the Ambulance New Brunswick (ANB) (Canada) communications center.

Gallant, ANB operations manager, was on his way to the dispatch floor after a meeting when he heard a fellow operations manager giving directions over the phone to the Sussex Fire Department. Curiosity got the better of him and then the best of him when he glanced at the calltaker associated with the request for response.

“She was looking for an app on her iPhone,” Gallant said.

And, of course, he asked her why.

The calltaker was looking for a mobile application that could pinpoint the whereabouts of three backpackers on the Fundy Park trail system in southwestern New Brunswick. The section of trail they were hiking winds along one of the few remaining coastal wilderness areas between Florida and Labrador and opens up previously unreachable areas of the Bay of Fundy coastline, according to the Fundy Trail visitors bureau.

“It’s remote,” said Gallant, who left the banking business five years ago to pursue a career in public safety. “It’s a very rugged trail.”

A satellite view Gallant later pulled up proved his picture. It showed a canopy of trees so dense in the area they were hiking that it obscures any hint of trail below. The Sussex Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had activated ground search and rescue volunteers.

Gallant didn’t describe the hikers as acting in a flustered sort of way; rather, the caller was anxious to find the shortest and fastest path to a road on day two of their planned three-day backpack. One of the hikers was ill and needed help out.

“The caller was calm,” Gallant said. “She was familiar with the area.”

Gallant’s brain flashed to the “Find My iPhone” app he had installed on his iPad in case it was ever lost or stolen. When logged in, the application can target the missing device and using a blue dot highlight the missing device. The user can zoom in and out of the map available with the application and view the location in a variety of modes.

And that’s basically what Gallant did, except by reversing identity. He asked the caller for the password she uses to enable the app. He logged in on his iPad and entered the caller’s information. That brought up their place in the woods.

“I instantly knew where they were,” he said.

The ambulance was sent on its way and to conserve the minimal power available on the caller’s phone battery, Gallant had her switch to text messaging. Without a signal, he could not maintain a fix on the device. Once they started hiking, he would lose them.

The backpackers were about a mile from a road, although a road far too rugged for the ambulance to travel. Instead, a 4x4 vehicle was sent to pick up the 21-year-old hiker, and he was transported to the hospital by an ambulance waiting at the nearby Algonquin Resort. Gallant led them to the trailhead in the virtual sense allowed by technology, and that saved a trip by the rescue helicopter called to find them.

The hiker was treated for severe dehydration. His two friends, also in their early 20s, might have continued on their hike. Gallant said he doesn’t know. The story has received a fair share of exposure by the press in Atlantic Canada.

The attention the “rescue” has received doesn’t bother Gallant. Truth be known, he would prefer a wider net of publicity. From his subsequent research, this was the first time the iPhone app had been applied to a rescue involving other than a stolen or missing electronic device.

“This was the obvious next step in finding them, and it worked,” said Gallant, who plans a visit to the park someday in the near future. “The greater picture is taking advantage of the technology we have available.”

ANB President Alan Stephen is understandably proud of the center and the fast-thinking Gallant.

“We train people to understand policy, procedure, and protocol and to adapt that understanding to what’s happening at that time,” he said. “We’re very proud of what Joel and others [in the center] are able to accomplish by living through our values and mission statement.”

NEWS FLASH: Gallant used the same process successfully on Aug. 9 to locate a caller needing help while visiting Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada.