Jan 29, 2015
Reacting to Emergency Response

By Mike Phelps

One month into the high school football season, a number of schools have been in the headlines for issues related to emergency response to injuries. From delayed response times to not having an ambulance on hand, Training & Conditioning looks at the latest news.

In Rock Hill, S.C., school district officials are evaluating their ambulance staffing policy for football games after an injured player was forced to lay on the field for 15 minutes before an emergency vehicle arrived. A few minutes before Rock Hill High School quarterback Corey Wessinger was knocked to the ground with a concussion, an ambulance had been present at the field, but it left with its lights flashing to respond to another call.

The first ambulance was able to leave the scene because the stadium has only an informal agreement with Piedmont Medical Center to provide an ambulance and emergency medical technicians. Because there is no formal contract, Piedmont provides the service for free. However, if the ambulance is needed for another emergency, it is free to leave. School officials are now discussing having a guaranteed ambulance at the stadium for the duration of games.

“Anytime we have a situation as unfortunate as that, we always review our practices,” Rock Hill Superintendent Lynn Moody told The Herald. “It makes you pause and think… [Our arrangement] has worked well until now. Because Piedmont has provided service free of charge, it’s not been a topic of conversation.”

June Wessinger, the mother of the injured player, would like to see the current practice changed.

“I understand it being a verbal agreement and there’s no money, but that was my kid,” she told The Herald. “I would like to see an agreement to keep the ambulance there for the entire game. I can’t imagine any parent that would not say we need an ambulance there…. You never know what’s going to happen.”

A similar situation cropped up this season at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, where, for the past 15 years, ambulances had not been on hand for high school games. That decision was made by Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH) and Oahu Interscholastic Association officials due to budget concerns, as well as the improving knowledge of athletic trainers on the sidelines. Traditionally, if an ambulance was needed, stadium officials would call 911 and one would be sent from Pali Momi Medical Center.

But recently, a pair of head injuries during games put a spotlight on the policy and showed that change may be needed. In one instance, Damien Memorial School’s Mika’ele Nakamura suffered a head injury that required transportation to the hospital. According to stadium officials, a 911 call was placed at 7:04 p.m., with a follow-up call at 7:20. The ambulance arrived at 7:24, nearly 35 minutes after the injury occurred.

“The first minutes when you’re walking out there and you’re standing with our doctors and trainers it is very tense,” Damien Athletic Director Wally Aina told KHON-2. “You want that ambulance to get there as soon as possible… You know it was 30 minutes or so but it seemed like 30 days actually as time goes by and you see the boy there.”

In response, the ILH is reviewing its policies.

“The ILH is looking into this case and we want to make sure this situation does not happen again,” ILH Executive Director Don Botelho said in a statement. “We will evaluate the rationale behind not having an ambulance on property.”

An ambulance is on-site during state tournament play and University of Hawaii football games. AMR, a private ambulance service, charges between $150 and $225 per hour to have a crew on stand-by.

At Midfield High School in Alabama, an injured football player recently had to wait approximately 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, partially due to a congested parking lot that was packed with cars. Despite parking attendants being on hand, a car that was blocking the ambulance’s entrance to the area had to be towed. Having an ambulance at football games is not required in the state.

“We highly recommend it,” Steve Savarese, Executive Director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, told the Birmingham News. “Why we don’t is that there are some schools that have ambulances within a minute away. Their headquarters are located so they can access them. But it’s highly recommended by the association . . . for the critical safety of the children, to provide critical care.”

Emergency response questions haven’t been limited to the gridiron, however. At Catonsville High School near Baltimore, Md., a visiting junior varsity field hockey player recently collapsed and stopped breathing following a game. While multiple coaches and parents immediately rushed to the player’s aid, an ambulance’s arrival was delayed by several minutes when the vehicle attempted to access the field area from the incorrect entrance.

Beth Reymann, a parent who was on the scene and President of the Comet Booster Club, has since been working with school officials to add more signs in the area to clearly direct visitors and emergency personnel to the correct location.

“It was frustrating to see them to go the wrong lot,” Reymann told CatonsvillePatch. “When you’re watching them do CPR, it seemed like forever.”

Mike Phelps is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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