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The Show Must Go On


John:The annual festival dedicated to daredevil legend Evel Knievel, Evel Knievel Days, is held in his hometown of Butte, Mont., every July and is attended by thousands of people from across the globe.

As the event has matured over the last eight years, EMS personnel (specifically those from the local ambulance service) have had front row seats to some of the most entertaining, daring shows available today. The entire event presents an opportunity to exercise trauma skills, not to mention a variety of medicals. We see everything from fractured limbs to head injuries, most from motorcycle crashes but some from car crashes. But there are just as many dispatches for unknown medical. Considering the high potential for injury due to the large number of spectators and performers, our trauma call volume is rather low, reflecting the professionalism and skill of the performers.

Yet for Matt McGree, a paramedic for A-1 Ambulance, the event made quite an impression.

A Paramedic's Worst Nightmare

Matt:My first experience with Evel Knievel Days (EK Days), was working with a group of freestyle motorcycle jumpers. I'd seen these types of events on ESPN but never in person or while working as an EMT. I'd heard people talk about their stomachs doing flip flops but I had never experienced it until watching the jumpers warm up. These guys were -- and probably still are -- CRAZY! They were jumping huge expanses onto small landing ramps on a paved street. They were letting go midair, laying their bikes on their side (some even do flips) and landing like it was nothing.

The crowd loved their stunts and yelled for more. I suppose if I was there as a spectator, I would've been just as amazed, but because I was supposed to be the professional taking care of any potential disasters, I was scared to death.

My partner and I were there about one minute when I started walking back to my ambulance.

"What are you doing?" He asked.

"I'm going to get the trauma gear ready; look at these guys!" I said.

I just knew somebody was going to wreck. Just as I got all my gear in order, a jumper hit the takeoff too fast. He let go in midair, caught his bike and landed well beyond the landing ramp. For everyone except for my partner, myself and the jumper, it really was something to see. When we reached the stunt biker's side he had a severe lower leg deformity -- an obvious tib/fib/ankle fracture. When we began to treat our new patient, he told me it was his first time jumping since being released from breaking his other ankle.

John:Not all of our calls are motorcycle-related trauma. The 2002 festival was sponsored by an energy drink. At that time, energy drinks were fairly new, and the company had set up a booth that gave away the drinks for free. We had call after call for symptoms of dehydration and nausea. For Butte, Mont., it was warm that weekend, around 90_ F. We've had our fair share of heat injury calls when people are out for summer celebrations, but this was well above normal and it was all age groups. It turned out that our patients had ignored water and were drinking excessive amounts of the energy drinks, mostly because they were free.

Dehydration calls were not the only type we responded to. Sometimes being an EMT requires making the best logistical decisions we can make, adjusting and adapting to each situation. Some of our experiences are just random mishaps that happen in EMS.

Matt:We were moving from one event to another and had positioned our ambulance right behind a large crowd that had gathered to take in the stunts. I got out of the ambulance to get a better look. My partner was still in the ambulance when a friend of his, who„had a little too much fun that day, came to say hello. This friend reached into the ambulance to give my partner a hard time and hit the horn. The siren was in hands-free mode and began to wail. It was„the first time in my career when I thought I was going to have to treat myself -- along with hundreds of revelers -- for heart attack.

Crash and Burn

John:Some of the more memorable moments at EK Days come from professional stuntman Spanky Spangler. He has jumped out of a hot air balloon. Twice he has jumped from The Finlen, a nine story building, once while on fire. He has crashed cars into busses and ramps, and he usually leaves the scenes in an ambulance. The 2009 event was quite memorable.

Spanky was heading to the ramp at top speed, but that wasn't enough to make the jump cleanly; Spangler's Monte Carlo pitoned off the front of the ramp and flipped end over end. What made the situation urgent was the fact that he had some pyrotechnical effects that caused the engine to catch fire, and the firefighters were unable to secure the hose to their tanker. Spanky was stuck in the car while the flames spread toward him. Security personnel and Spanky's support team rushed in with portable fire extinguishers and were able to put out the fire.

Firefighter Rick Ryan and A-1 EMT Jim Durkin rushed toward him. Initially, they had trouble because the car was upside down on top of the narrow ramp. Ryan reached him first and Spangler was unresponsive, but as Durkin arrived, he was conscious but disoriented. During the initial assessment, Spangler complained of bilateral leg pain as well as mid-sternal chest pain. Durkin, joined by a team of Butte firefighters and EMT Dan Schlichenmayer, extricated him while maintaining C-spine stabilization. The team fully immobilized the professional stunt hero, treated him for shock and rapidly transported him to our local hospital.


In the tradition of daredevils everywhere, stuntmen work hard to put on an enjoyable show. They're usually family-friendly events that advance smoothly, even in the presence of trauma and medical calls. Many of the injuries the professionals incur are ignored until the show is over. The old saying, "the show must go on," rings true -- especially with daredevils.


Watch footage from the 2007 Evel Knievel Days event.

Watch crews in action after Sparky's stunt goes awry.

Read "Reduce Stress and Prevent Injury" to learn to use flexibility to your advantage.

John Amtmann,EdD, NREMT-B, is a professor of Applied Health Science at Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte. He_s an EMT with A-1 Ambulance in Butte, an ACSM certified preventive and rehabilitative exercise specialist and an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. Contact him atJAmtmann@mtech.edu.

Jim Durkin,EMT-I99, has been working as an for A-1 Ambulance since 1993.

Matt McGree,EMT-P, has been working as a paramedic for A-1 Ambulance since 1999.

Austin Moody,EMT-B, is a premedical student at Montana Tech and has been working at A-1 Ambulance for three years.

Daniel Schlichenmayer,EMT-B, has been working for A-1 Ambulance since 2000.


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