Keeping Summerfest safe: Riding along with Bell Ambulance's EMTs
Last year, I joined two Milwaukee police officers for a foot patrol shift at Summerfest, and honestly, it was one of my favorite stories I've ever written for OnMilwaukee.com. Seeing the cops calmly yet firmly keep the peace at the world's largest music festival was both interesting and eye-opening, a mix of discretion and quick thinking.
Tuesday night, I saw a different side of crowd control while riding along with the EMTs from Bell Ambulance. When fest patrons get hurt, these first responders have to spring into action. During a three-hour tour, I saw plenty of action from revelers who weren't exactly thinking "safety first."
According to Chris Anderson, operations director for Bell -- the private ambulance company contracted for Summerfest -- some days tend to be busier for the dozen or so EMTs and paramedics staffing the festival. Typically, he says, opening night, the first Saturday of Summerfest, July 3 and the final Saturday (which this year falls on the 3rd), generate the most activity.
Most of the problems his crew encounters are alcohol-related, either from minors who've consumed too much or from the occasional bumps and bruises associated with falls and fights. Sometimes, the incidents are more serious, like seizures or asthma attacks, but along with Bell, the Milwaukee Fire Department and the Red Cross are on site to handle nearly any problem that arises.
Dispatchers from the MFD and Bell route the appropriate responder to the appropriate incident, but while the fire department is on bike and the Red Cross is on foot, only Bell's employees travel in electric golf carts -- effectively serving as fully-stocked ambulances on the grounds.
Anderson says a typical day at Summerfest might yield 25 calls, though most occur after 9 p.m. He says he's seen a decrease in drinking-related problems in 2010, due to increased screening by Summerfest security and vigilance from the "red shirts," with whom his staff works closely.
The carts, or "Liberty Bells," are stationed throughout the grounds and staffed by two-person crews. Tonight, Bell has four crews on site, plus a dispatcher. On a busy evening, Bell will add a few more -- in this case, carts and crews diverted from Miller Park when the Brewers head out on a road trip. Anderson says the average response time to anywhere on the grounds is about 3.5 minutes -- which is rather impressive considering the density of the crowd on hand.
Tonight, it's cool and dry, so Anderson expects the calls to filter in more slowly. On a hot and muggy night, he says he might respond to 40 calls.
At 8:05 p.m., a call comes in from a Summerfest cleaning staffer claiming that a girl is passed out in the bathroom. The crew of Tim Kocovsky and Mike Nikolai is close to the scene, though, already positioned on the north end of the grounds. By the time they arrive, the 17-year-old girl is walking under her own power, and she gets on the cart without a fight.
The Liberty Bell brings her back to the police booking area by 8:15 p.m., where the EMTs check her blood sugar, pulse and blood pressure -- and provide her with a vomit bag -- Anderson says he sees a lot of vomit on this assignment. She's alert and mellow and is instructed by MPD to arrange a ride from her parents.
At 8:32, I join Kocovsky and Nikolai on their cart, and we ride to the north end. Whenever possible, the EMTs drive outside the grounds or through off-limits access areas to avoid foot traffic, but occasionally it's unavoidable. It's almost surreal slowly parting traffic, as Nikolai occasionally toots his horn to get the tipsy or distracted patrons to step aside.
A few minutes later, we park ourselves by the north gate and wait. And wait. And wait some more.
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Be honest Andy....did you see a lot of drunks while you were working?....that's the main reason I don't go anymore.
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