Former dispatcher shares six-year journey after the Humboldt bus crash

An audience of police officers, support staff and telecommunications personnel listened as former dispatcher Heather Fyke shared how she had to live with her trauma as one of the first to take the calls on April 6, 2018, when the Humboldt Broncos team bus crashed near Tisdale.

She was the guest speaker for the telecommunications appreciation banquet, hosted by the Weyburn Police communications staff on April 16 at Cecilia’s Banquet Hall.

Many times the hall was absolutely still as she shared the struggles of living with PTSD, for which she had no diagnosis until a full year after the tragic bus crash, and eventually it was determined she was unfit for work as a dispatcher ever again.

Heather has been involved in emergency services for over 30 years, as an Intermediate Care Paramedic, a trainer for SIAST in PCP, an RCMP DEPOT Dispatcher/telecoms, and now is a civilian employee with the RCMP in a different facet.

She began with EMS in 1992, and served in that capacity until 2009 when she shifted over to telecoms.

“Nobody told me what was going to be coming through my headset,” she said, adding she was also never told what to do with the mental images that would come through her head when there were calls that went bad, such as a murder-suicide involving children that she dealt with.

On the fateful day in April in 2018, Heather was the main dispatcher when the call came in that a bus had crashed with members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, and she wasn’t prepared for the level of trauma this event had on so many people.

“My computer emits a high pitch when a priority call comes in, and the radio has a high tone, and my phone was ringing off the hook. We had members in a shift change coming on and who didn’t know that in Tisdale there had been a bus crash. I did everything I could in my shift, finding more ambulances, finding hospitals, family members calling to find out what happened …

“When my shift was over, I pushed my chair back and a colleague asked if I was all right. I said ‘no’ and went home, without a plan … I went to work the next day at 6 a.m., and they were just as busy as the night before. We had family calling, medics calling, the media calling, so the phones didn’t stop at all. I went back to work the third day, and the calls were the same again. I was picking the phone, getting the information and crying when I hung up. For three days I tracked the horror, and didn’t know what to do with them,” she said, going on to describe how she had counselling and drug therapy, but it was a full year after the bus crash before she was finally diagnosed with PTSD.

In the meantime, there were posts and posters everywhere with “Humboldt Strong”, all in support of the families and hockey team, while inside she felt a deep anger about them and avoided all mention of the Humboldt crash whenever she could.

“I was so isolated … I was turning into someone I didn’t want to be,” said Heather, describing an incident at a camera store where she absolutely lost it on the staff, yelling and screaming at them. She went back a couple days later to apologize, and found the trigger was a photo of the Humboldt Broncos team.

In 2019, she attended an OSI clinic in Saskatoon and saw both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and received her PTSD diagnosis.

Heather later got help from an unexpected source, from the RCMP re-integration team, with whom she was involved as part of the investigation into the crash. The team was set up to help officers who were in member-involved shootings.

This team was able to show her photos of the actual crash (not ones seen on the news), and she later went with a psychiatrist to the actual bus crash scene, along with members who had originally responded to the scene. Once she was able to do this, and to look over the evidence of what happened to cause the crash, it silenced a lot of the doubts and voices in her mind that somehow she hadn’t done enough that day, and someone was left behind.

This question came up in her mind, as when she went home the first day she was told there were 15 casualties, but the next day they said 16, and she feared that something she said or failed to say had caused this extra death.

In the end, she said, it took until six years after the crash for all the voices to be quieted inside of her. It was an incident that “took me to my knees. How could something so quiet be so loud?”

She took her headset with her to the site, and with some help put it up on one of the 16 crosses at the site, to show how that she spent 36 hours with them, hearing the cries and questions.

“If someone had talked to me, I wouldn’t have had those fears living with me,” she said, adding she felt that many in the room listening to her were able to relate to her feelings more than they realize.

“What do you do with calls that just don’t go away?” she asked, and noted her psychiatrist tried treating her with Ketamine, with the result eventually that her neural pathways opened to allow her to talk about some things she had previously not told anyone, to get to the cause of her PTSD.

Heather said she now feels like she can finally get through that incident – but once she does, there are other calls she needs to work through that are still weighing on her mind, such as the murder-suicide that went bad.

It is important for professionals like her, and those who are in the field on the front lines, to talk about things they see and deal with.

“We still have so far to go in talking,” she said, noting it’s taken her six years to reach the point where she was able to stand on a stage before them and talk about what she went through.

“The system wasn’t ready for me when I fell – I sure hope it’s ready for you if you fall,” she said, encouraging members to contact her if they would like to talk at any point about their experiences.

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