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EMS ‘in and out’ of hot zones during Ferguson protests

Calm and prepared EMS providers went into action after grand jury decision announced

Riots in Ferguson, Mo. last night resulted in 61 arrests, 21 fires and 14 injured.

Christian Hospital EMS Chief Chris Cebollero and his crews responded to reports of injuries ranging from tear gas and assaults, to shootings and smoke inhalation.

“When we go into these areas, we want to get in and out as quickly as possible,” Cebollero said.

Responders have been busy, but have been following a plan that’s been perfected through training and practice over the last few weeks, and weren’t overly taxed by the riots following the grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer in the killing of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“Under the circumstances, I’m very proud of the effort and how the team performed so far,” Cebollero said.

Preparation paid off

Cebollero said he’s running two EMS systems – one for ‘business as usual’ and one dedicated to the Ferguson response.

Although accounts say Monday night’s protests were far more destructive than any of those that followed Brown’s Aug. 9 death, Cebollero said it’s been consistent with what he expected.

For instance, during the previous riots, crews would often respond to a call, and arrive on scene to find no patient. Now, it seems people aren’t even bothering to dial 911.

“We’re seeing it in a different way now in that we’re not even getting the call,” he said. He also noted that although the scene was intense, many of the protesters seemed to be going home earlier, around midnight or 1 a.m.

As they were preparing for possible civil arrest, there was a tension that permeated the whole department, he said. The attitude was very pensive and stressful as they ‘dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s.’

But the preparation appears to have paid off.

“Once the decision was announced, a calm came over the department and we knew were had to take care of business,” he said.

If anything, EMS providers were a bit more lighthearted than last time, because they knew what to expect. Crews were also staffed in much the same way, with some of the same people even picking up the same shifts.

‘The worst is yet to come’

Consistent with expectations, Tuesday has also been quiet during the day.

“So far today we’ve had no real challenges,” Cebollero said. “We’re running calls as normal. But I think you’re seeing the peaceful protests now.”

He’s seen lists published by activist groups saying which building protesters plan to target. While unsure if those were acted upon, he noted that a Little Caesars Pizza restaurant burned in both Ferguson and nearby South City.

While it’s been manageable for EMS so far, Cebollero believes this is just the beginning.

“I think the worst is yet to come,” he said.

But rather than worry about rumors and targets, Cebollero said he’s concentrating on making sure everyone has the resources they need, and that everyone comes out on the other side of this event feeling proud of the work they’ve done.

This is history in the making. Cebollero has been asking his crews, “What that history going to look like at the end when the book closes on this story?”

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“The conditions of the victims right now is unknown” but all were taken to hospitals for treatment, police Capt. Scott Molnar said