PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. -- Command and control of an incident is critical to the overall management and successful mitigation. The same can be said for an event. Application of the National Incident Management (NIMS) and Incident Command Systems (ICS) should not be limited to incidents that are generated by someone calling 911. Fire Departments can and should utilize ICS on most incidents and apply the same principals to activities such as drills, training, community outreach, fund raising, funerals and large venue events. ICS is beneficial to managing just about any small or large-scale event and is good practice for when it is needed on emergency incidents.
The Prince George’s County, Maryland, Fire/Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department utilizes an ICS on many incidents on a daily basis, significant weather events and just about any scenario that would involve multiple layers of personnel, apparatus, additional agencies and resources.
FedEx Field, home to the Washington Redskins, is the third largest stadium in the National Football League accommodating over 80,000 fans, workers and players. The Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department provides services to the stadium during game day and special events. Approximately 60 firefighter/medics and other specialty services are on hand to provide suppression, prevention and inspections, hazardous materials and medical services. The stadium has six levels – Field Level, the Lower Level, the Club Level, the Lower and Upper Suite Levels, and the Upper Level.
All Department resources utilized at FedEx Field including personnel, apparatus and equipment are managed through the Department’s Special Events Unit (SEU). The SEU maintains suppression and EMS apparatus including transport carts designed to access upper level stadium concourses, Basic Life Support (BLS) or Advanced Life Support (ALS) equipment as well as scheduling of personnel to staff events.
Planning and resource management is the key to successful management of any incident and event. Having the benefit of providing services since the stadium opened in 1997, the Fire/EMS Department has compiled an extensive operations plan for stadium events. The event covered in this article is a major country concert tour. The stadium operations plan for football games and concerts are similar with the exception of how personnel are positioned on the field level and the addition of a first aid room at that level.
Event day for the SEU start hours earlier in prepping fire/EMS apparatus, assigning positions to staff, BLS/ALS equipment, credentials, radios. Personnel are assigned to report to the prep area at varied times to ensure a smooth transition and deployment to the stadium.
Firefighter/Medics were standing-by and were prepared to provide services to fans, staff and performers at a large outdoor concert on Sunday, August 12, 2012. The weather was typical for an August day with temperatures near 90 degrees, moderate humidity with blue skies and a bright hot sun. A major concert tour was performing at FedEx Field in Landover, with a crowd of over 50,000 expected to attend the 4:30 p.m. start of the first of four acts.
The venue parking lot opened at 12:30 p.m. with tailgating and party’s starting up soon thereafter. Hot grills and cold drinks made for a festive and upbeat environment with tailgaters enjoying the day in anticipation of the concert featuring big name country stars.
Medical services are provided by way of first aid rooms, mobile carts and mobile cots (stretchers) positioned at strategic locations throughout the stadium. An engine handles fire suppression with a crew of four firefighters that remain outside of the stadium. A command officer and supervisor, FIRE OPS 1, FIRE OPS 2 and the Logistics Team support the suppression crew when needed.
On three of the stadium levels there are two first aid rooms. First Aid rooms are located in elevator towers on opposite sides of the stadium on the first level (concourse), Club Level and Upper Level. Two firefighter/medics staff each of the first aid rooms and are equipped with a full set of BLS and ALS equipment. A “cart” is assigned to each of these levels that responds to a patient’s location and transports them back to the first aid room. A “cart” is a modified golf cart manufactured specifically to accommodate a patient and two EMS providers. Each “cart” is staffed by a pair of firefighter/medics. Supervisors, otherwise called EMS OPS 1 or EMS OPS 2, support and control all EMS crews. These EMS supervisors are mobile and can report to any incident to provide support or they can address patients by themselves as well.
Patients are brought to first aid rooms by "carts" or patients can walk-in. Each cart is equipped with emergency warning devices, as making your way through a pedestrian filled concourse can be extremely challenging. As in everyday life in the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, EMS calls at the stadium far outweigh suppression incidents. If a patient in a first aid room requires hospitalization one of the BLS or ALS transport units, standing by on the stadium exterior, will be deployed to the first aid room and take over patient care while transporting to a hospital.
The field level has a first aid room and/or triage area located in the south tunnel entrance underneath the seating bowl. On the field level there are two teams of firefighter/medics that each carry a full set of ALS equipment and supplies. These teams are referred to as “Field Carts” which are equipped with a cot that will deliver their patient from the seating area on the field to the first aid room and then report back to the field level position. On the field, carts are not the motorized style used on the upper concourses, but simply stretchers loaded with their equipment. Six thousand fans would occupy seats or a standing-room only area on the field.
Additional personnel assigned to the field level first aid room monitor patients that are delivered by the field cart teams. If it is determined that a patient requires hospitalization, then an appropriate transport unit will be summoned from stand-by outside of the stadium and complete the transport to a medical facility. This scenario is the same for any patient that is in one of the upper level first aid rooms as well.
The coordination and dispatch of the Fire/EMS resources is handled by the “command post” located in the south tunnel under the stadium. The command post is staffed by command officers that oversee and monitor all Fire/EMS radio traffic and events on-going at the stadium. Dispatchers from Public Safety Communications are on-hand to handle the radio, phone and dispatch record keeping.
There is an integrated incident command post located in one of the upper suites that monitors all activities at the stadium. This integrated command post has a Deputy Fire Chief as the overall event commander.
When the gates to the venue opened up around 3:00 p.m. there were a few thousand fans that made their way in. The majority of the early arriving fans were ticket holders allowing them to enter an area called the “sandbar.” This area is designed for standing room only and has close proximity to the stage and extended walkway where the performers stroll and perform. Other patrons found their seats and awaited the first act that was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Other fans remained in the parking lot enjoying hamburgers, hot dogs, hot sun and cold beverages.
As the 4:30 p.m. hour approached, more and more fans made their way to their seats, some remained outside continuing to party awaiting the two main acts, not scheduled to start until about 6:30 p.m. Each performance started and ended like clockwork and the show was running smoothly.
A few minor injuries occurred outside the stadium with the engine crew and transport units handling appropriately. A security worker felt ill inside with medics on the field transporting her to the field level first aid room. Upper level first aid rooms handled patients walking in with minor illness and injuries. The security worker cooled off and eventually refused transport. These minor incidents were just a prelude to the number of patrons that would start feeling the effects of a long day.
As the evening progressed, just about all the seats were filled, the “sandbar” was packed and everyone was having a great time. Just after the third act started playing, at 6:54 p.m., I made a comment on the @PGFDPIO Twitter account that “the activity has been at a minimum for the Fire/EMS Department at FedEx Field.”
As one veteran paramedic stated, “that’s when they started dropping.” The pace of the calls for EMS became steady, but not overwhelming. A combination of spending the long day in the hot sun and quite possibly use of alcohol sent many seeking assistance and relief. Cart crews on the field and 1st level, the level patrons enter the stadium on, were the busiest at first. As the event wore on everyone maintained a steady pace tending to sick or injured patrons. Some patients required transportation to a hospital and some just needed a chance to cool off.
One of the goals and objectives of the SEU is to handle all Fire/EMS activity at FedEx Field and not to use and deplete in-service units that regularly provide services to the remainder of the County. This was accomplished by the use of the Department’s Medical Ambulance Bus that was used as an intermediate triage area for patients moved out of first aid rooms and awaited transportation to a medical facility. These patients were appropriately triaged and transported by priority.
Overall the men and women of the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department did their job to the best of their ability under challenging circumstances. All personnel managed the crowd of over 50,000 patrons under relatively dark conditions with field cart teams challenged by loud music which made it nearly impossible to transmit or hear your radio and a higher then usual number of people that required some assistance.
The successful planning and resource management provided by the Department’s Special Events Unit proved to be the difference from being overwhelmed. The Fire/EMS Department has a proven record of providing services to these type of large venue events with a comprehensive emergency operations plan that is effective and efficient in ensuring an all-hazards approach. The ICS implementation provided an effective command and control function ensuring oversight of the safety and well-being of over 50,000 people.