Heroes Treating Superheroes: Emergency Responders Answer the Call at Comic-Con

A team of San Diego emergency responders is out to save the day, literally. They provide medical standby coverage for Comic-Con, the world’s largest annual gathering of comic culture.

What started as a small comic book collector convention in the basement of a San Diego hotel in 1970 has morphed into a huge pop culture festival that draws more than 130,000 people annually. Along with the crowds comes the need to respond to medical issues and emergencies that arise over the course of the convention. EMTs and paramedics working Comic-Con provide services as simple as distributing Band-Aids to caring for seizures and cardiac conditions requiring ALS assessment.

Coleen Brainard, EMT and special events manager for Rural/Metro Ambulance, has been working the event since Rural/Metro became the medical standby provider in 2003. “It’s rewarding to help people from all walks of life,” she said. Here, that could mean zombies or super villains.

According to Brainard, special event medical standby is marginalized as a form of EMS, but anything that can typically happen in a comparably sized city can happen at Comic-Con. The event draws industry professionals, media outlets and fans of all ages from across the world. Some international guests with disabilities have even remarked that medical services are significantly more advanced at Comic-Con than in their home countries, and this allows them the mobility to attend an event of this sort they might not otherwise have.

In addition, because people have spent significant sums of money on tickets and accommodations, they may push their limits and come to these large events even though they feel sick. They might also hesitate to report potential medical emergencies, fearing they and their groups will have to leave.

If possible, said Brainard, providers try to treat and release so patients can get back to enjoying their day. They also try to mitigate the need for people to leave the convention center to find treatment and care for simple health matters. Their focus is on providing good customer service and promoting the overall “experience” of the event.

Special event coverage also comes in handy from a logistical standpoint because throngs of people and traffic congestion can delay response times for EMS. The convention’s tertiary events spill out throughout San Diego’s historic downtown and Gaslamp district as parties, media junkets and flash mobs take over the streets, creating access issues for first responders.

In addition to first aid teams situated at locations throughout the venue, Rural/Metro posts an ambulance on an adjacent street, and around-the-clock medical coverage continues throughout the convention. A joint dispatch center staffed with fire, EMS and police personnel inside the convention center helps alleviate burden on the city’s dispatch system.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department employs additional Mobile Operations Detail (MOD) Zuumcraft scooter paramedic teams throughout downtown to help respond to high-volume crowd areas outside of the convention center. And, the convention center itself is abundantly stocked by AEDs as part of San Diego’s extensive public access defibrillation program, San Diego Project Heart Beat.

So, what does it take to provide medical aid to these convention-goers? Last year, about 3,000 band aids were distributed. All in a day’s work for a superhero.

Loralee Olejnik is a freelance writer and the community outreach representative for Rural/Metro of San Diego.

 

 

 

 

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