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Rod Brouhard, EMT  P

Ambulances at Sporting Events Not Always Part of 911

By February 26, 2013

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Kyle Larson's crash at Daytona is getting a lot of press, including replays of 911 calls from the crowd. There were reportedly 33 fans injured by the debris. Getting emergency medical services to all the places where injured patients are located is compounded by the number of patients stretching resources very thin. NASCAR is a dangerous sport, to watch as well as compete, which might be what helped the victims of that crash more than anything else.

Clearly the caller was trying to get someone to help and called 911 in desperation. He indicates that bystanders have been "calling for paramedics and nobody's showed up." A caller in the stands of a large event might assume that calling 911 will get his plea for help relayed to the EMS resources he can see stationed at the event.

It's a reasonable assumption, but it might be wrong.

Kyle Larson NASCAR Crash

Kyle Larson's car hits the fence airborne at Dayton Speedway on February 23, 2013.


(c) Jerry Markland/Getty Images

All professional sports have some sort of emergency medical resources, as do many collegiate and high school sports. We've all seen football players taken off the field and loaded into ambulances. Sports aren't the only large gatherings that have EMS. There's an EMT or two, usually more and usually with an ambulance, at every stadium concert.

At NASCAR and other car races, the number and types of EMS available are completely different than at any other sports competition. In addition to an extra large contingent of ambulances, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, there are rescue teams ready to cut open racecars if a driver is trapped. Their focus is usually on the track and what's known as the infield, rather than the stands. However, if the resources are there, they can be used on whomever needs them.

Officials Remove NASCAR Crash Debris

Officials remove parts of Kyle Larson's car, including a tire.


(c) Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It's plain to see all the emergency medical resources at a large event. The uniforms and emergency vehicles give them away. What people may not know is that EMS resources in sports or other gatherings aren't always connected with the 911 system. In many cases, the ambulances you see at sporting events are privately contracted and may not have any direct communication with the people who answer your 911 calls.

I wondered as I listened to the call how officials in Volusia County and Daytona Beach have trained to respond to calls from within the track and the arena. I'm sure 911 calls are placed from mobile phones in the stands at Daytona Speedway all the time for the same sorts of emergencies that would happen anywhere else in Florida: heat exhaustion, chest pain, diabetic emergencies, etc. The county likely has a way to move those calls through the system and push them to responders stationed at the raceway. No doubt it's a system that has evolved over time.

It's the inherent danger of racing that helped the injured get resources quickly. More than any other sport, racing uses a significant amount of private and public EMS resources. It requires coordination that might not be available at a football or baseball game.

This isn't the first time fans have been injured by debris from crashes on a race track. At tracks like Daytona and Indianapolis, there is likely to be a plan for handling such an incident. On Saturday, they had a chance to implement whatever plans they had. One thing is certain, there will be a critique of the response and the lessons learned will be applied to future incidents. Hopefully those lessons will be shared with other EMS event planners.

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