Report Cites Lessons from I-35W Response

Safety gear and supplies inadequate



Jeremy Olson | | Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS -- A review of the emergency response to the Interstate 35W bridge collapse was published this week in an American Medical Association journal with the goal of improving response to future disasters.

While police, fire and ambulance crews have been roundly praised for their rescue efforts, there are lessons from the Aug. 1, 2007, collapse, said Dr. John Hick, assistant medical director of EMS services at Hennepin County Medical Center. Hick was one of seven local authors who wrote the article for a special edition of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

Safety gear: First-responders were fortunate they weren't injured when they entered the turbulent river without flotation devices. Local ambulances now carry them. A paramedic was hit in the head by a fist-size chunk of concrete when he reached the first victim, but his helmet spared him from injury.

Lack of supplies: Ambulance crews ran short of neck collars and splints to secure patients for transport. Rescuers didn't carry enough morphine to treat the immediate pain of the injured.

Public help: Civilian rescuers were instrumental in the first 15 minutes but later slowed down rescuers who had to account for their safety. Pickup trucks were effective, though less than ideal, for transporting moderately injured patients out of the river basin.

Communication problems: Most rescuers forgot to notify dispatchers through a push-button communications system when their ambulances arrived at the scene. Most also didn't use a central system to identify their destination hospitals, creating confusion over the number and whereabouts of victims.

Utility problems: It took several hours to determine that the contents of a crushed railroad car contained no toxic substances. A worker with a jackhammer suffered severe shock injuries a week after the collapse because of contact with a live wire.

Mental health: Many rescuers were overwhelmed and later experienced mental health problems.

"Symptoms of insomnia, anorexia, hypervigilance, irritability, and nightmares were experienced by many responders following the incident," the study noted, "(including the authors)."

Thirteen people died and 127 were injured as a result of the Minneapolis collapse. The new I-35W bridge is scheduled to open next week.

Jeremy Olson can be reached at 651-228-5583.

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Related Topics: PPE and Infection Control, Natural Disasters

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