Preparedness was what it was all about at the Democratic National Convention from Aug. 25 to Aug. 28 in Denver. The historic event became an exercise in what can go right when preparing to protect large, potentially volatile crowds at a major event, says Craig Spader, RN, firefighter/EMT-P, who worked the convention as a bike paramedic for South Metro Fire Rescue in Centennial, Colo., attached to the Denver Health bike medic team.Decontamination tents at the Democratic National Convention are supplied to treat people exposed to hazardous chemicals and gasses. The tents were prepared and manned by nurses and staff from the U.S. Army and Air Force.
Mountains of Cooperation
“It was a massive coordination of multiple agencies that took over six months of planning and training,” says Spader. “Denver’s mantra has been ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.’ “
When the attendees hit town, the atmosphere was charged with lighthearted festivity, anticipation of a bright future for the Democratic Party, and anxiety because of potential threats to safety.
Potential dangers included protesters who illegally blocked traffic and tried to scale a security fence; a possible three-man conspiracy to harm presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.); a threat to bomb a large dam in the nearby Rocky Mountains; and a threat from some protestors to throw feces and shoot urine out of water guns.
Multiple local, county, and federal medical and security teams worked together to ensure the health and safety of the public, delegates, high-profile legislators, and celebrities who attended the event. Teams included Denver Health’s bike medic team, nurses, medics, and physicians from the U.S. Army and Air Force who staffed on-site HAZMAT decontamination stations and stabilization tents.
Denver Health also worked with local private ambulance and paramedic services to provide coordinated medical transport, and countless nurses and physicians manned on-site aid stations and local EDs to handle a potential influx of patients. A SWAT medic team also was primed and ready for action if needed.Spader (center) poses with members of the Denver Police.
Security was provided by Denver police outfitted in riot gear and the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. In the end, no serious threats were carried out and protesters caused only minor disturbances.
“Through the course of this week we proved that different agencies can work well together,” says Spader.
The Denver Health bike medic team was a key element in successful preparedness at the DNC. An avid mountain biker and bike medic, Spader and other specially-trained bike medics responded to medical calls wherever there was a need, including the areas surrounding the Pepsi Center and INVESCO Field at Mile High, where major events took place, and the downtown area.
On a specially-fitted mountain bicycle, Spader carried 50 pounds of gear, including an AED, oxygen bottle, first-line ACLS drugs, IV, advanced airway equipment, and cervical immobilization collars. “Mountain bikes are built sturdier than road bikes and can better carry equipment and take the punishment of riding down stairs or across grass, gravel, and dirt to get to calls,” says Spader.
Bike medics also carried gas masks to protect them from exposure to noxious gasses, such as tear gas, pepper spray, and weapons of mass destruction. They also carried nerve agent kits that contain atropine and pralidoxime (2-PAM), antidotes for organophosphate poisoning.
“If we suddenly started defecating, urinating, crying, or vomiting, [signs of organophosphate poisoning], we needed to slam those injections into our legs ASAP,” says Spader who also was trained how to use his bicycle as a shield from aggressors. “Fortunately, we didn’t have to do any of that.”Spader at the Pepsi Center.
High Altitude and High Heels
The DNC also has proved to be an exercise in the specialty of localized medicine. At an altitude of a mile above sea level, the Denver environment is semi-arid, the air is thin, and the sun’s UV radiation is more intense than what visiting “flatlanders” are accustomed to. It all adds up to a high risk of altitude sickness, dehydration, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
“Our biggest concern was the effects of dehydration, heat exposure, and the altitude on people from out of town,” says Spader.
The bike medics responded to more than 550 medical calls during the five-day convention, the majority of which were for dehydration and altitude issues. In mild cases, care included providing water and a lot of advice about the best way to deal with the altitude and intense sun. This included drinking lots of water, resting in the shade when needed, and avoiding caffeinated, carbonated, and alcoholic beverages.
There also were many calls for diabetic emergencies, chest pains, seizures, and respiratory problems, including asthma attacks exacerbated by the high altitude.
“High altitude can affect anybody that is on a medication that requires a continuous level in their system,” says Spader. “Altitude increases your metabolism and you end up metabolizing out medications faster than you would at lower elevations.”
Blisters and twisted ankles and knees were common complaints from female attendees who had to walk long distances from hotels to check points and through security zones in high heels. But by the second and third day, Spader noted that the medics’ advice about dealing with the environment at the DNC had taken hold. More people were toting extra water and many women were wearing sneakers and carrying their high heels.