Medical responders prepared for worst-case scenario procedures

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Editor’s note: The story as originally published incorrectly identified the AMR branch from which eight additional ambulances were called. The story now reflects the correct information. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.

NATCHEZ — Even as ambulance and air support services responded to the prisoner riot in northern Adams County Sunday evening, arrangements were made to ensure emergency services would still be available to residents in need.

American Medical Response Operations Manager Tim Houghton said that when AMR was alerted to the situation at the prison, the company jumped to action and called in off-duty team members and administrators. They also called in eight additional ambulances from the AMR branch in Jackson.

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“Knowing the dynamics of the prison and the dynamics of the situation there, we knew it was going to quickly exceed our in-house abilities,” Houghton said.

“We put management on site out there to start facilitating the staging of those (ambulances) and the communicating with the prison staff while they were trying to route the patients, be it the guards or the convicts.”

At the same time, Air Evac was responding with their local helicopter — as well as a second helicopter from Rayville, La. — to the scene. The Air Evac communications center also contacted University Medical Center in Jackson and had them bring two helicopters with a physician on board. Pafford Air of Ruston, La., and Acadian Air in Lafayette, La., were also contacted to respond, Air Evac Program Director Sandy Roberts said.

With all of that ambulance and air support directed to the prison, there was potential for medical emergencies not related to the riot to be overlooked.

But that was never an option, Houghton said.

“We still had six ambulances covering the day-to-day business,” Houghton said. “We did not rob Peter to pay Paul — there were 20 ambulances in the area, and they were all AMR.”

Initial AMR responders to the riot were the personnel who were already on-duty, Houghton said.

“The initial response was made by three on-duty trucks, and as additional personnel came in, we took those trucks back out and put them back into the system, so the people who were out there were the people who had been home.”

Meanwhile, Air Evac was working to ensure that air support was still available as the riot diverted the local resources.

“(The riot response) was going to leave several areas uncovered, so Air Evac dispatched its aircraft and brought aircraft from Demopolis, Ala., to Jackson, and brought fixed wing aircraft from Missouri to cover (northern Mississippi),” Roberts said.

“Our entire company shifted its aircraft toward the scene to cover for the response.”

Each AMR ambulance on the scene had an Emergency Medical Technician Basic and an EMT Paramedic, Houghton said, and in addition to the personnel in the 14 on-site ambulances AMR had two people in management positions on the site.

“On the scene, the prison had activated some of their medical staff,” Houghton said. “The prisoners were routed through their medical team, triaged through that team, and our paramedics worked with their medical team. We also worked with their staff to develop that area and identify the patients that needed to move now and facilitated those moves as they occurred.”

Air Evac personnel also helped with triage and alerted regional hospitals — Rapides Regional Hospital in Alexandria, La., Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center in McComb and UMC — that their trauma units might be needed.

“We divvied up the patients to different areas to make sure those hospitals weren’t stressed,” Roberts said.

The two Air Evac aircraft were kept on the scene at the prison, and the other responding helicopters were kept at the Natchez-Adams County Airport to be brought in one at a time as another lifted off to keep control of the situation, Roberts said.

Both emergency response companies left the scene at approximately 3:45 a.m.

Roberts said both companies have participated in drills for large-scale events like the riot, and that training paid off.

“It really showed that we had been doing our drills appropriately, several times a year, it went smooth and people came out of the woodwork to assist their comrades,” she said.

“The aura was calm as it could be and everybody knew their place — it was wonderful.”

Houghton said he, too, was pleased with the results of the evening. AMR has previously worked with the prison to develop a cohesive policy to respond to such an incident, he said.

“In any case like this, the primary concern becomes covering the event and going in while maintaining good coverage for the public,” he said. “It kind of gives us a little pride. Our crews operated very safely and they executed on the requests they were given.”