Medics Treat Real Injuries during Gettysburg Battle

260 patients, 19 transports and one helicopter flight during reenactment



AUBREY WHELAN and EDWARD COLIMORE, The Philadelphia Inquirer | | Tuesday, July 9, 2013

GETTYSBURG - One of the enemies at the Gettysburg reenactment did not take sides. The weather - heat and humidity - affected reenactors and spectators alike.

But there was help. In a reenactment site that resembles a small city, complete with security, traffic controllers, sanitation crews, and ticket sellers, there were three staffed medical aid stations and an impressive mobile emergency room.

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As of late Sunday, they had treated about 260, with 19 taken to area hospitals. One of them was evacuated by helicopter Saturday, Miller said.

In a tent next to the large medical trailer, paramedics were ready. "This is where we evaluate patients," said Mark Miller, director of field EMS operations for the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, which organized the event.

"We would treat them here, and if they need more, we take them to the trailer," provided by Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

The trailer, called the Lion Reach Mobile Training and Evaluation Center, is spacious, air-conditioned, and equipped with flat-screen TVs - and has all the medical equipment that an emergency room would have.

"They are in a supportive role, like a MASH unit," said Miller, 52, of Greencastle, Franklin County. "We have a physician and nurse on the scene providing direction.

"We handle heat-related illnesses and can cool and hydrate patients, even with an IV," he said. "We can take 13 patients in the trailer and eight in our tent."

Patients with serious injuries can be taken from the site by helicopter to Hershey Medical Center or York Trauma Center.

Michael Kurtz, chief flight paramedic for Penn State Hershey Medical Center, helped organize the trailer effort. "We're helping them utilize the facility," he said. "We want a smooth operation. Hopefully, this will be uneventful," he said.

For Miller, a paramedic with Waynesboro Hospital in Franklin County, the job at the Gettysburg reenactment was part of a working vacation. "It's a ritual for many of us," he said. "I've been doing this for 18 years."

Medically speaking, this year's reenactment has been relatively uneventful, he said, despite nearly unbearable heat throughout.

"I think it's because more reenactors are prepping themselves more adequately," he said.

EMTs' real concern this weekend is not for reenactors, despite the heavy wool they wear. Most reenactors, Miller said, are used to dealing with heat. Spectators, on the other hand, are generally not as rough and ready.

Out on the battlefield, reenactors who need help in the heat are treated from wagons carrying ice and "ice angels" in period garb, toting buckets of ice by hand. Midway through the reenactment, Miller and his team began sending EMTs along with the ice wagons in case of an emergency on the field. The wagons, he said, have also helped get incapacitated reenactors safely off the field.

"It makes things look better," said Michael Odian, a veterinarian who, as a reenactor, drives a Confederate ice wagon, clad in period garb himself.

He has transported several reenactors off the field, mostly for twisted ankles and knees, but his main job is to "keep the ice and the water flowing to the guys doing the reenacting."

"Then, the people in the stands don't know any different," he said.

Medical personnel work with members of the command staff of both armies, who also have staff ready to spot the truly injured during military maneuvers. Reenactors wave a yellow flag to alert EMTs when they find someone in need of help.

"We're mostly looking for anyone having any kind of problems," said Barry Kline, who helps oversee medical operations at Federal Headquarters.

"Of course, 99 percent of (fallen soldiers) are faking it at a reenactment," Kline said.

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