Province promises to conduct investigation to ensure all septic tanks meet standards
A Calgary family is still searching for answers after their 21-month-old daughter fell into a septic tank at the Tourism Saskatchewan Visitor Reception Centre, located just west of Maple Creek on the Number 1 highway, on June 23.
Trevor Pickersgill, along with his wife Denaie McCarthy and their three daughters were on their way to visit relatives in Regina when they stopped at the reception centre for a break.
Their daughters immediately rushed over to an area next to the building where other children were playing, and stood on the lid of the facility’s septic tank, which sits approximately six inches above ground.
When the two older girls stepped off the tank’s lid, it collapsed, sending their youngest daughter – 21-month-old Nataya – plunging 10 feet down into the human waste, completely submerging her.
McCarthy tried unsuccessfully to catch Nataya as she fell. McCarthy’s scream alerted Pickersgill, who rushed over and without hesitating jumped through the narrow opening down into the pitch-black foulness of the septic tank to rescue his daughter.
“She was going through the little tunnel into a different part of the septic tank,” Pickersgill told the CBC, “and I reached in and grabbed her leg.”
Reception centre staff and bystanders quickly secured a rope, and hauled out first Nataya, then Pickersgill.
Following the incident, Nataya was taken to the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility, where she was treated for a five-centimetre cut on the back of her head, as well as “concussion-like symptoms.” The family has also taken their daughter to the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, and plan on having blood tests performed by their family doctor. Because of the close proximity of human waste, bacterial infection is a large concern.
When the family returned to the Visitor Reception Centre on June 24, the day after the incident, they found the lid to the tank had been properly secured.
Our reporter visited the site, and found brand new lids on both of the access points for the centre’s septic tank. Both of the lids were secured in place with shiny new padlocks, and seemed sturdy enough to prevent any similar incidents from occuring in the future.
“This is a very unfortunate incident, and we take it very seriously,” Deputy Minister of Central Services Richard Murray told the News-Times.
Pickersgill and McCarthy are questioning why the original lid was not properly secured on a government property that receives a high level of public foot traffic, often including children.
“Could have been a lot heavier lid,” said Pickersgill, “not a thin little plastic lid. It wasn’t on properly.”
“There should have been a steel grate on it too. Or why couldn’t it be fenced in?”
“This was a public area,” said McCarthy, who describes the incident as “the most traumatic thing” that has ever happened to her family. Their two older daughters, Saraya and Alayna, witnessed their sister’s fall into the tank and have reportedly had trouble sleeping after the trauma of the incident.
Following the incident, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Central Services has promised to produce a report on the incident, and review the condition of the 52 septic tanks it maintains across the province.
“It is our responsibility to operate and maintain and make sure everything is in working order,” said Murray.
According to Murray, three quarters of the tanks have already been reviewed and found to be problem-free, with the remainder set to be completed within a week.
“At this time,” said Murray, “we’ve not determined whether the lid was damaged or rusted or fatigued or broken or tampered with or simply not secured prior to the incident.”
The Ministry of Central Services is expecting to complete their investigation and report within a week. According to Murray, the resultant findings will “absolutely be made public.”
“Our main concern is with the family,” said Murray. “The CEO of Tourism [Saskatchewan] spoke to the family Friday. Our investigators will absolutely be speaking with the family as well.”
Murray is hoping the incident will not have a negative impact on tourism in the province.
“It’s a one-off unfortunate incident. We’re taking all available measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
[NOTE: This incident occurred at the Tourism Saskatchewan Visitor Reception Centre outside of Maple Creek, which is not to be confused with the locally-operated Maple Creek Visitor Centre on Jasper Street.]
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