An impenetrable wall stood behind Airdrie paramedic Jayme Erickson, as she recounted to the media the unfathomable tragedy that befell her family on November 15. That wall of support and shared grief was made up of two of her closest families; her loved ones and her first responder colleagues; fellow paramedics, RCMP officers, and firefighters.
As she spoke to the media at the Chinook Winds Fire Hall on Tuesday afternoon, the heart-wrenching loss and heartbreak were not only visible in Erickson's eyes and voice, but also in those who stood behind her, holding her, comforting her, and shedding their own tears. Erickson said her daughter meant the world to her.
"She's her mother's daughter, so that's the first thing. Montana was a firecracker. She loved fiercely and if you were her friend, she would love you to the end of the world and back. She would do anything for you. She was a fighter and she fought until the day she died," Erickson said. "She was beautiful. She was so beautiful."
Erickson said her daughter was not only a fierce and determined young woman with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, but she was also a top-notch swimmer. Although Erickson and her family, including her husband Sean, who is also a Calgary paramedic, and Montana's adoptive father, a paramedic as well, grapple with the dark void of their daughter no longer with them, Erickson revealed that Montana was still able to give, even in her final hours.
"She was able to donate her organs and some of those organs that were donated were life-saving. We're so happy to know that our baby girl is moving on through others. She has in the wake of this tragedy, saved other people. We know it's what she would have wanted," she said. "We are so proud of her and we're going to miss her very, very much."
As Erickson bore the most unimaginable grief to the world for all to see, she also acknowledged that those standing behind her, shedding tears for her and her family can understand, perhaps better than anyone else, that this tragedy is the cruellest and most horrific nightmare of any first responder.
"I think every first responder can relate to the pain that we're feeling. Nobody wants to go through anything like this and I just want my baby girl's memory to... I want the world to know what she [Montana] meant to us and how much she means to all of my co-workers."
A gofundme campaign that was set up on behalf of the family on Monday afternoon has already amassed over $47,000 dollars. The funds are meant to support the family as they continue to grieve the loss of their child, especially since it is unlikely that Erickson will return to work as a paramedic in the near future.
Platoon Chief with the Airdrie Fire Department, Chad Durocher, flanked by his wife Deana Davison, who is a primary care paramedic spoke to the mental anguish and impact that this tragedy has had on not just Erickson, but all those who serve as first responders.
"As close personal friends and colleagues, we watched Montana grow up with our own children in this community. All first responders share the horrible fear that we will have to attend a call where the patient is our parent, our spouse, our friend, or God forbid our child. Seeing tragedy and horrific loss is just the reality of what we are forced to encounter every day in uniform. We choose this. We choose to be the calm where there's chaos," Chief Durocher said. "But this comes at a cost. Emotional trauma for first responders is real and it is deep. It's nearly impossible to explain this kind of trauma."
Davison explained that Erickson herself is no stranger to PTSD.
"She had attended the pediatric call that affected her to the point that she was fearful of every move her daughter. Worst case scenario would play up and the constant fear and anxiety were debilitating. As many of us know, myself included, seeking help for this type of injury helps, but it doesn't take it away," Davison said. "We are all just one call away from never doing this job again. Jayme's traumatic story is affecting first responders across this country. It brings to light once again, this horrific nightmare could happen to any one of us. This is why today we stand together as one family."
That nightmare scenario call that Davison alluded to was a call that Erickson was dispatched to on November 15 at Big Hill Springs Road and Range Road 24.
Family friend and fellow flight paramedic Richard Reid recounted, pausing at moments, overcome with grief, what led up to the terrible collision. 17-year-old Montana Erickson and a friend were heading home after a walk at Big Hill Springs Park. The girls' car lost control and struck an oncoming vehicle.
"EMS and Rocky View Fire were called and the first vehicle on the scene was staffed by Jayme Erickson. Jayme briefly entered the vehicle and began triaging the patients. One occupant was able to ambulate out, but the other was severely injured and sadly disfigured. This patient could not be moved until the vehicle could be cut apart by the fire department," Reid said.
Unbeknownst to Erickson, for at least 20 minutes she kept her daughter alive.
"The patient's injuries were extensive and showed signs of severe brain injury along with multiple limb fractures. Jayme knew that these injuries would likely not have a positive outcome," Reid continued. "On her way back she expressed the grief and frustration to her partner knowing that tonight a family would likely lose their daughter, sister, a grandchild."
STARS Air ambulance would transport the patient to Calgary, while Erickson continued to stay on the scene, treating the others who were involved in the collision. When Erickson came home, police officers came to her door and informed her that her daughter had been transported to the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. She rushed to be by her daughter's side, but abject horror struck her when she walked into the hospital room and saw the patient she had been treating that afternoon was her own daughter.
In a public social media post over the weekend, Erickson revealed all that had happened to her and her family.
"Today we officially said goodbye to my little girl. I cannot help but be angry for the short amount of time I was given with her. 17 years was not long enough. Although I am thankful for the 17 years I had with her, I am shattered and left wondering," she wrote.
Apart from being a spunky and vivacious teenager with wit and spark, Erickson said her daughter was also a talented writer.
"Her writing skills blew me away. Sometimes some things that she would write to me or some analogies that she would do of books and movies; I would often say to her, 'did you just copy and paste?' Because she was so articulate," she said. "I just wonder what she would have been in life."
Since news of the story broke, condolences from the community and across the province have poured in, some as far away as Australia.
Discover Airdrie contacted the RCMP to ask if there has been any progress on the investigation, however, according to police, the investigation is continuing.