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President's Speech Interrupted By Mass Illness

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President Barack Obama made an appearance today on the campus of Bowie State University in Bowie, Prince George’s County, MD. During his speech he paused twice to direct Firefighter/Medics to locations near the front of the stage where supporters had fallen ill. Fire/EMS personnel were quick to respond through the large crowd, with the assistance of the Secret Service, to initiate care. This scenario, minus the dispatcher, occurred constantly through the event.

It was a breezy 71 degrees and no humidity to speak of. The sun was bright and was bearing down on the thousands of supporters attending the rally where the President was speaking. Attendees showed up many hours earlier and stood in line as they waited to pass through security check points and then were led into the rally area where they stood shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for the event to start.

At about 1:45 pm, the Fire/EMS Department’s Special Events Coordinator, Fire Major Corey Smedley, was notified simultaneously by campus security and Secret Service of a person down near the media area. From there on reports of sick and fainting people flowed in. The basic life support ambulances assigned to standby during the Presidents visit were quickly overwhelmed by the number of people requesting assistance. The crew from Engine 819, on standby in the parking lot, was called in to assist and immediately went to work treating patients. The Fire/EMS crews were in constant motion and additional resources including 2 BLS ambulances and a Paramedic Supervisor were called to the scene.

It was quickly determined that the majority of the people being tended to were suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. A triage area was established in the University gymnasium providing a cool climate in a large empty building immediately adjacent to the rally area. As a precaution, the Department’s Medical Ambulance Bus and Haz-Mat Team were called to the scene in the event their personnel and equipment were needed. These extra units staged in a nearby parking lot and released when the rally came to an end around 4:00 pm.

Throughout the 2 ½ hour period there was a steady flow of patients evaluated and treated in the triage area or on the campus grounds. A large percentage of the patients were senior citizens and provided with hydration, oxygen and allowed to rest in the cool environment. Paramedics monitored the patients and when their vital signs were in an acceptable range were released after declining transport to a medical facility. Two patients were transported to area hospitals by ambulance with more serious illnesses and 36 patients were evaluated and treated in the triage area and released.

A total of 18 Fire/EMS personnel operated on the scene.



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