Tim Hortons has found itself in the midst of a controversy after a teen suffering from an asthma attack asked to use the phone to call for help, but was turned down.

It happened on Sunday when Brett Wolfe, 17, stopped at a Tim Hortons on Horton Street East and Wellington Street, in downtown London, Ont.

While inside, he started having breathing problems and asked to use the phone.

"They said, 'There's a payphone across the street.' Well, I said 'I need to call 911, I'm short of breath, I'm having an asthma attack' and they just ignored me."

Aldina King was with Wolfe when the attack happened.

She said it was clear her friend "needed hospital attention."

King said staff didn't act quickly.

"I didn't see any reaction, that's the funny thing about it, I didn't see any reaction. I sat there quietly dumbfounded."

A quick-thinking patron used a cellphone to call paramedics, but according to one report they weren't allowed to enter through an exit-only door.

Tim Hortons said the teen did ask to use the phone but didn't say he was in distress.

It was only when an employee went to get a manager that Wolfe indicated he was having trouble breathing.

A spokesperson said the manager knew paramedics had been called and that Wolfe walked outside on his own.

Tim Hortons said employees are encouraged to recognize signs of distress and call 911

In a statement sent to CBC News, the company said "our restaurants normally handle these unique situations right in the vast majority of cases. In this particular situation, this team member misjudged the circumstances."

It was also in a London, Ont., Tim Hortons that a cashier was fired five years ago when she gave a Timbit to a crying baby.

The cashier was later rehired.

Wolfe said he doesn't expect anything from the company, but he would like to see a change in attitude "and if something really does happen, they should let people call."

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  • Roll up the Rim to Win: A History

    Here are nine important, fun or just plain random facts about Tim Hortons’ Roll Up The Rim To Win Contest.

  • This is the guy who invented it

    Ron Buist was the marketing director for Tim Hortons when the chain rolled out its first Roll up the Rim to Win contest. Buist says he came up with the idea because of cost constraints. The chain didn’t have enough money to make cups for a scratch-and-win contest, so he came up with the idea of rolling up the cup’s rim instead. "<a href="http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/2012/05/01/roll-up-the-rim-inventor-among-judges-at-may-12-bears-lair-finale">Like any invention, one person comes up with it, but it's the company that makes it work</a>," Buist said.

  • There's a novel about it

    Giller Prize-nominated writer Leo MacKay Jr.’s novel <em>Roll up the Rim</em> is “<a href="http://www.indiegogo.com/rolluptherim">a comic tale of obsession, redemption, divine intervention, and Timbits</a>.” MacKay is selling the book directly, and depending on how much money you send him, you can get the book autographed, get a reading from the author via Skype, or even get an in-person reading. Now that’s dedication.

  • A hot commodity among thieves

    Some retailers who carry Tim Hortons coffee have reported customers doubling or even tripling up on roll-up-the-rim cups. Some brazen wannabe winners are going so far as to take entire stacks of cups out of stores. Retailers have <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/02/25/thieves-stealing-roll-up-the-rim-cups">taken to hiding the cups behind the counter to keep people from stealing them</a>.

  • Dude, where’s my Toyota?

    A winning Timmies cup became the centre of acrimony in 2006 when a 10-year-old Montreal girl found a cup in a garbage can. With the help of a 12-year-old friend, the girl discovered that the cup was a Toyota RAV4 winner. But the contest win turned into a battle between two families when the 12-year-old’s parents claimed the prize for their own. And the whole issue became even more complicated when a custodian at the girls’ school claimed he had thrown the cup away. In the end, <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2006/04/19/hortons-cup-060419.html">Timmies gave the car to the 10-year-old</a>, as the rules stipulate whoever hands in the cup wins the prize.

  • Timmies employees sneaking and peeking?

    A Newfoundland man told the press in 2008 he suspected Timmies employees of sneaking and peeking at cups to suss out winners, then passing along the losing cups to customers. Bernard Delaney said he got a cup that looked like the rim had already been rolled up, and the cup, he said, even had teeth marks. Tim Hortons said <a href="http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2008/03/26/manufacturer-blamed-for-faulty-roll-up-rims-man-says-his-cup-looked-like-it-had-teeth-marks-on-it">a manufacturing problem was to blame for the cup</a>, and denied anyone had bitten into the cup or sneaked a look under the rim.

  • Environmentalists vs. Roll up the Rim

    The Toronto Environmental Alliance criticized the Roll up the Rim contest in 2010, noting that disposable coffee cups of the sort Tim Hortons uses are wasteful and harmful to the environment. "A lot of resources go into making a coffee cup and too often they end up going into garbage. . . . it's a pretty significant waste of resources,” the group said. Tim Hortons <a href="http://www.lfpress.com/news/canada/2010/03/01/13076551.html">said they were looking into alternatives, but hadn’t found one yet that works</a>.

  • Regional divides

    Tim Hortons took some criticism when it emerged in 2009 that <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/story/2009/03/11/nb-tim-hortons-rims-629.html">your odds of winning are worse in some provinces than others</a>. CBC reported that, though 52.5 per cent of Roll up the Rim purchases took place in Canada’s largest province, Ontario only received 43 per cent of prizes. The best odds of winning were in British Columbia, where the odds of winning were nearly double that of Ontario.

  • Counterfeit cups?

    Vancouver Island house painter Matthew de Jong walked into a Tim Hortons in 2009 and presented a winning cup for a Toyota Venza. A week later, the company <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2009/05/15/bc-roll-up-the-rim-fraud.html">informed de Jong he wouldn’t be getting his prize because his cup was a fake</a>. Tim Hortons even suggested it could bring charges against de Jong. But when the story hit the news, a 12-year-old girl who lived in the house de Jong was painting came forward to admit she had made a fake winning cup as part of an April Fools prank. Tim Hortons dropped the matter.

  • Bad for business??!!

    In 2011, when Tim Hortons missed quarterly earnings projections, the company blamed the bad performance on “<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/tim-hortons-blames-roll-up-the-rim/article591364/">significantly increased food and beverage prize redemptions</a>.” The company estimated Roll up the Rim had cut about a third off of same-store sales growth that quarter. But the company also noted that a coffee promotion at McDonald’s during that year’s Roll up the Rim may have cut into sales.