Have you ever been a little lost in a crowd, hurt, disorientated, in pain? If not, that’s great. But if you do find yourself in a bad spot, don’t fret. Believe me when I tell you, emergency personnel are all around and on the alert.
At the Vectren Dayton Air Show this year, a multitude of people were out in force to ensure everyone’s safety, though chances are you didn’t notice.
Dr. Brandon Amburgey, medical director of the air show, invited us into the mobile communications center, a trailer at the edge of the grounds. A vital part of the puzzle, this command center receives every single medical call (and the inevitable lost child/spouse emergency) related to the air show, saving critical time by not having to reroute calls through a 911 dispatch office first. Here is where they push out the calls to ready teams of bike and Gator crews and if necessary, form mobilizing crews to transfer patients from the air show to a local ER facility. And the medical helicopters on the other side of the air show grounds? Not just there for show and tell with the public; worst case scenario, those choppers and medical personnel would be utilized as well.
Todd Rardon and Lt. David Andes (like the chocolate mints!) served as head communications directors within the command center. Reardon helped facilitate as EMS escort and had the air show supreme power of shuttling medics and VIP across air show lines to avoid the crowd. He also worked dispatch, receiving inbound calls and pushing out the appropriate help. His wife, Kim, was also in the trailer tag-teaming dispatch, as was their visiting daughter. They maintained the trailer, wired it, and got all the radio equipment from the Montgomery County EMS office up and running.
Radios were vital to the safety of the thousands of unsuspecting people in the crowd. Andes explained that with two hospital networks and eight to 10 fire and EMS agencies, keeping everyone on a single, clear frequency was of massive importance. This also alleviated the burden and time of routing through a 911 center. Think of it as a sub dispatch for air show property.
Bouncing back to Amburgey: he explained how the ambassadors/volunteers took over after a call to Channel 1. “Where are they? What’s the incident?” They rushed to the person who needed help and made a rapid assessment of the situation. Sunburn? They had sunscreen and cold compresses. Band-Aid? Not a problem. Overheated? Necessary IV’s were ready. Diabetic issues? You’ll be okay, they could help. Heart attack? It has happened, and thanks to quick response time, patients were removed from the grounds efficiently. Just need to go back to the medical center? Gator at your service. Is it best to go to the ER from here? You’re in good hands; ambulance or Care Flight helicopters at the ready.
What was one of the most challenging aspects of their jobs? Location. Someone calls into Channel 1 with an emergency: “Where are you?” “By the big gray plane.” Well, uh, which big gray plane? Take, for example, the visiting B-52-that’s a really big gray plane. Front, back, right/left side? Specifics matter. Building on that, the team devised a grid system of the grounds to help narrow down quadrants on the property and passed the map to all the law enforcement teams in an effort to expedite help. Interestingly, they admitted there were no politics in this arena. Police, fire, EMT — they were all for assisting each other to help the public. Someone down at Alpha 6/Bravo 4? “Go get ‘em!”
Our command center directors didn’t deal with just the emergency calls. Andes interacted with the FBI, TSA, federal air marshals, homeland security, customs, border patrol, and surrounding police departments so they all came together and were appropriately debriefed on the status of the air show. Medical staff, airport rescue crews, plans, layouts, any changes the air show might have had. Air show performers making any alterations? They all had to know and adapt. Terrorist chatter? The earlier mentioned representatives were actively listening to any and all chatter for credible threats. Side note: as we parked in front of the mobile command center, there was a law enforcement agent playing ball with his K-9 officer.
Amburgey was in the interesting position of taking over as medical director of the air show from Dr. Gebhart, who moved into a board of trustees role. Amburgey had been a doctor in the medical tent prior to taking over his current position. He insisted that everything went very smoothly for the 2018 Dayton Air Show, and Rardon quipped, “You missed a meeting, didn’t you?” Despite seeing several patients in the medical tent and transporting a few to a local ER, it was a good air show. He credited the smooth plan that was set up before him and the capable response team he was surrounded by.
Was there anything that had surprised them in this job? Andes pondered it, then admitted sadly that he was there for two air show fatalities. “You’re like, did that really happen? But watching the response of everybody — there are no department boundaries — when you see that coordination, it’s just amazing to watch. I want to say there’s no politics involved with all the responders.”
So what would have happened if I had broken my arm there? The media wrangler, Sheila Wallace, insisted I wasn’t allowed to do that, but Amburgey calmly relayed the plan: someone would call in to dispatch, they’d send a bike crew to check me out, send a Gator to haul me to the medical tent where they’d splint my arm, then mobilize a squad to take me to the closet ER. Andes and Rardon were in constant contact with the local hospitals, so they’d have known if one ER was closed and would have dispatched me to the next.
To the bicycle team: They had the advantage of cutting through crowds quicker, allowing for rapid access to the patient, as opposed to a cart. Some had gone through bike training with police, so they understand crowd control. Another priceless part of their job: finding people. I refer you back to the “big gray airplane.” Which one?! At the air show, the bike team were all fire department members and carried basic first aid supplies. Quick, rapid access was the name of the game for this team. Some carried small oxygen cylinders, some had IV medications, blood pressure cuffs, equipment to take vitals, etc. They wore blue or red shirts with reflective lettering so the medical team or doctor could find the patient in a sea of people. Saturday, they had volunteer reps from Lebanon, Troy, Miami Township and Green County bike teams. They and the Gator squad were encouraged to get out there and be seen so the public was aware of their presence. Sometimes, a call didn’t even have to go through dispatch. someone would just wave the crew down.
Air shows are long days for these guys. Typically, a day is at least 12 hours long. They didn’t seem to mind, though. They were on point the whole time with stabilizing medical care, ready to roll by bike, Gator, ambulance or helicopter, if necessary. They showed up three days before the show even started, just to be ready within seconds to help any of us.
Rardon admitted, “I volunteer because I love being here.” Andes and Amburgery nodded emphatically.
We were all in good hands, and they kinda restored my faith in humanity. Thanks, guys. Just, why didn’t you help me prevent the sunburn? Kidding. We’ll see you next year! But hopefully in a nonemergency kind of way. Thank you to you and your team for actively watching over us all.
The writer, a Sidney native, is a copywriter for WXIX-TV Fox 19 in Cincinnati.