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Reno air races crash: Emergency crews were waiting -- and ready

September 17, 2011 |  1:52 pm

Reno emergency

Emergency crews seem to have been prepared for the disaster that struck about 4:20 Friday afternoon at the Reno air races.

First responders transported 56 patients needing medical care from the airfield within 62 minutes of Friday's crash at the Reno Air Races, emergency medical officials said. That was no small feat, amounting to about one person per minute.

They had a head start in a way. A team of about two dozen emergency response workers were on standby at the event Friday, said Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical

Photos: Reno air race crash

The standby team at the airfield at the time of the crash included four ambulances, four nurses, an emergency doctor and four paramedics on all-terrain vehicles to allow quick access to accident sites.

"They were down on the scene within seconds," Kruse said. "That's why we believe that triage and transport went so quickly."

More than a dozen additional ambulances rushed to the scene when it was declared a "mass casualty incident" at 4:26 p.m., she said.

One patient was airlifted by an emergency helicopter that was staged nearby and "landed almost immediately" she said. The region's two other emergency medical helicopters did not have to be dispatched.

The other 55 patients were taken to hospitals in 19 ambulances, some of them carrying multiple people.

Some patients may have left the airport in private, fire or law enforcement vehicles, she said, possibly accounting for higher casualty numbers reported at three local hospitals.

The Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority provides standby medical services at major public events throughout the region and the number of personnel assigned to this year's air races was comparable to past years, Kruse said.

"This was our standard response in terms of number of resources," she said.

The crews had had practice.

In May, emergency crews conducted a full-scale drill of their response to a plane crashing into the grandstands; that drill was called “Broken Wing,” said Kevin Romero, EMS director for the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority.

In the exercise, crews and local hospitals rehearsed a full-speed response to a mass casualty incident, including the treatment and transport of about 200 patients to local hospitals, Romero said.

Then, in July, officials from the Reno Air Racing Assn. and the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority met to discuss and conduct a step-by-step walk-through of emergency procedures for a mass casualty event at the air races.

And during the planned five-day event, emergency crews were scheduled to meet hours before the gates opened each day to go over procedures for different emergency situations, Romero said. The sessions were to vary from day to day.

Friday’s refresher course just happened to be what to do if a plane crashed into spectators.

“We train pretty significantly for exactly what happened yesterday,” Romero said. “We were able to transport almost a patient a minute.”


FULL COVERAGE: Deadly crash at Reno air show

Reno air races had history of safety issues, troubles

'No chance to get out of the way' of plane in Reno air crash

-- Tony Barboza in Reno and Stephen Ceasar in Los Angeles

Photo: Emergency responders, spectators and debris are seen after a P-51 Mustang crashed at the Reno air races Friday. Credit: Tim O'Brien / Grass Valley Union