A volunteer first aid officer who examined a teenager an hour before she collapsed of a ecstasy overdose at the Big Day Out four years ago has told a coronial inquest the girl seemed fine when he examined her, but admitted he had no training or briefing about drug use or overdoses.
The death of 17-year-old Gemma Thoms on February 2, 2009 - the day after she collapsed at the Claremont Showgrounds - is being investigated by the Coroner's Court this week. The inquest has been told Gemma took three ecstasy pills - one at home and two outside the gate after she panicked about police sniffer dogs - and lied to first aid volunteers, telling them she was 18 and had taken a dexamphetamine tablet.
The inquest is examining any steps that could make these big events safer, including having paid paramedics working there. Gemma had tampered with her driver's licence and managed to enter the event with an adult wristband.
Retiree Tony Holding, who had been a first aid volunteer for about 18 months in February 2009, said he took Gemma's vital signs and except seeming flushed and excited her condition did not alarm him. The 75-year-old volunteer believed Gemma just needed to sit down to calm herself and drink some water.
"A lot of other people in first aid had been a lot worse (than Gemma)," he said.
Mr Holding said he understood that if he had known Gemma was underage that her parents should have been contacted.
Under current St John Ambulance guidelines, anyone under 18 who is being treated and is under the influence of drugs or alcohol must be released into the care of a parent or guardian, the police or ambulance.
Mr Holding said there had been no briefing before the event regarding how to recognise or treat drug overdoses, what cases would be most common at the 40,000 strong event and he had no specific knowledge or training about ecstasy.
He said he relied on the information Gemma gave him and the observations he took. When Gemma said she had taken a dexamphetamine tablet, Mr Holding said he didn't know much about that drug but knew it wasn't as hard as ecstasy.
Mr Holding said in future it would be beneficial for first aid volunteers to receive specific drug and alcohol training in which the warning signs were explained. He said even today he had not undertaken any drug training.
He said in hindsight he would not have done anything differently, with the information he had at the time, except perhaps taking Gemma's observations again before she left.
Two friends who saw Gemma and her friend Cassandra Southern at the Big Day Out gave evidence earlier today about the hairdressing apprentice's first visit to the first aid post.
Luke Grant, who said he had taken ecstasy with Gemma previously and said the pair discussed taking drugs at the festival in the days prior, said when he saw Gemma and Ms Southern at the event Gemma told him and his friend Phillip Gillespie she had taken "three green hearts", meaning three ecstasy pills.
He said Gemma looked pale and unwell, had dilated pupils, was jittery, chatty and grinding her teeth and encouraged her to go to the first aid building. Before she went in, he said they discussed that she should tell the first aid officers that she had taken three "dexis", meaning dexamphetamine tablets. Mr Grant said they were scared of getting kicked out of the event if they confessed to using ecstasy.
"You could just tell things weren't all that good (with Gemma)," he said.
He said he had taken two similar ecstasy tablets but after seeing Gemma he threw his remaining pill in the bin thinking something could be wrong with it.
He said he still wasn't happy with how Gemma looked after she came out and encouraged her to go back in to the first aid post and tell the truth about what she had taken.
Mr Grant said when she returned a second time she had a cool towel and a bottle of water and she looked better so they parted ways. Less than an hour later Gemma collapsed and started convulsing.
Mr Gillespie, who went with Gemma into the first aid room to keep her company and was also under the influence of ecstasy, said his memory was vague but remembered Gemma telling the first aid officers she had taken "dexis".
"It didn't cross my mind someone would overdose. If it did I would have said something," he said.
Outside court, Gemma's mother Peta Davies urged young people to tell the truth when their health was at stake. She said having better qualified people at these events would be beneficial.
The inquest before Coroner Dominic Mulligan continues.