Trending Topics

Stranded upside down: Are you ready for unique MCIs?

Five takeaways for mass gathering planning from a carnival ride malfunction in Wisconsin


“Will your community be ready for the next unique MCI that makes headlines?” asks Rielage.

Photo/Getty Images

During the recent Forest County Festival in Crandon, Wisconsin, a carnival ride called the Fireball malfunctioned and riders were stuck upside down at the top of the ride. Eight riders, including seven children, were left hanging in their seats for about 3 hours. Neighboring fire departments were called for ladder trucks as the closest department did not have equipment that could reach high enough. All riders were eventually rescued without incident and only one was transported to a hospital for evaluation.

Top takeaways from carnival riders stuck upside down

Planning for special events and mass gatherings should be taken very seriously. So many different emergencies can occur and unless your community is hosting big shindigs every weekend, you need to do a little extra work to be ready for them. There are many great resources out there to help your community, including the National Association of EMS Physicians Mass Gathering Position Statement and resource document, but here are five takeaways from this event to consider as you prepare for the next festival in your area.

1. Include rescue resources in mutual aid plans

Fairs, festivals, rodeos and races all present unique ways people can become injured, trapped and in need of extrication during an emergency. Planning should include a close look at where participants will be and how they may get themselves into trouble.

Do your local fire departments have the resources necessary to safely extricate patients from these challenging scenarios?

In the Crandon, Wisconsin, case, fire departments from the neighboring counties had to be called to send ladder equipment that could reach the victims stuck on the ride. Do your mutual aid plans detail where special resources may be available?

2. Train for predictable injuries and illnesses

While we know we cannot predict every potential illness or injury special event attendees and participants may suffer, an analysis of the event should help identify some potential emergencies as well as highlight conditions that local responders do not regularly face.

In this case, each of those victims were at risk of suspension trauma. When was the last time any of us covered that in a refresher class? Take some time during event planning sessions to list out some of the unique emergencies responders may face and provide training to the responders who may be called.

3. Identify additional transportation resources

The county where this festival mishap occurred is sparsely populated and only a handful of ambulances are regularly available. Eight potential patients certainly met the mass casualty incident definition of overwhelming the local system, so additional ambulances were called from nearby towns. Luckily, those ambulances were not needed, but the plans to request them existed and were used.

All mass gathering event plans should include a section to manage resources when the special event turns into an MCI. Additional transportation resources should be identified, and the plan should include ingress routes, a staging area, loading zones and egress routes. Don’t forget to identify potential helicopter landing zones and designate ambulances to transport patients to them.

4. Communicate with local hospitals

Let’s not forget the destinations we will need to transport patients to if something happens. In many of our service areas, we have only a couple of hospital destination choices for normal operations, but when faced with a multiple casualty event, we can’t simply transport all the patients to the closest hospital. That just moves the disaster from one place to another and is not the best care we can provide our patients.

Plans must be in place to communicate with local hospital personnel in the event of a large emergency so they can activate regional plans and work to distribute patients more effectively. This may include using helicopters to take patients to further destinations as well as activating regional critical care transport services to perform interfacility transfers after patients are stabilized.

5. Ensure command centers can pivot to unified command

To make all of the above steps work, officials in charge of emergency preparedness and response during special events must be trained and capable of switching gears from normal mass gathering operations to a large-scale emergency response quickly. Most large gatherings have at least some form of an event command center set up, even if that is just made up of law enforcement and a representative from the venue.

These individuals must be familiar with the plans that will need to unfold if an emergency occurs.

  • Are they aware of EMS and fire operations?
  • Will they have the radio frequencies to communicate with all responders?
  • Is the command center equipped to expand into a unified incident command center?
  • Are other agency leaders aware of the command center and do they know to report there as the incident escalates?

Unified command centers work but they need to be used.

In the case of the stuck carnival ride in Wisconsin, the systems worked, the resources were called, and the patients were rescued safely. Will your community be ready for the next unique MCI that makes headlines?

Stay safe out there.

Additional resources for mass gathering planning

Michael Fraley has over 30 years of experience in EMS in a wide range of roles, including flight paramedic, EMS coordinator, service director and educator. Fraley began his career in EMS while earning a bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University. He also earned a BA in business administration from Lakeland College. When not working as a paramedic or the coordinator of a regional trauma advisory council, Michael serves as a public safety diver and SCUBA instructor in northern Wisconsin.