Speak Up 12/13: Welcome to "Las Vegas Syndrome"

With a city based on desert heat, gambling, entertainment and late-night debauchery, the unexpected becomes the norm. Whether you’re one of the more than 36 million annual visitors gambling away the house payment or enjoying an adult beverage at the new “it” night club, Las Vegas, NV, has whatever you desire.

Las Vegas is advertised as an adult Disneyland where everything and anything is possible – and happens. Clark County firefighters and local EMS agencies know these statements to be truths all too well. Whether it’s the herd of young ladies slipping and falling while leaving the clubs at 4 A.M. or the 5 A.M. rollover accident caused by an intoxicated driver, the nights here are never dull. Among the most frequent calls, though, is a common occurrence that is increasing every year: the “Las Vegas Syndrome” patient.

“Las Vegas Syndrome” is not an actual disease, but a street term given to incidents that involve certain visitors who basically cannot handle Las Vegas. A person with “Las Vegas Syndrome” is someone with not enough sleep, not enough water intake, too much sun and, of course, too much alcohol.

The “illness” itself ranges in effect from signs and symptoms of the flu to intoxication and lying in one’s own vomit to unresponsiveness and emergency transport to the closest emergency room. Many times, the simple remedy is taking a few hours to rehydrate and detox. Clark County firefighters can’t go a shift without running their share of dehydrated and intoxicated individuals, with most of these calls coming after midnight.

Although “Las Vegas Syndrome” can be a true medical emergency, many times it’s a just a funny story for the person to go back home with. “Vegas Baby!” and “What happens in Vegas…” are catch phrases said by, and lived out by, tourists from all over the world.

Being a firefighter/paramedic at Clark County Firehouse 11, where our first-in area is the south side of the “The Strip,” my crew encounters these calls on a daily basis. Whether it’s a young man celebrating his 21st birthday at a resort swimming pool or young ladies attending a bachelorette party at a new nightclub, alcohol will be consumed and mistakes will be made.

Station 11 ran more than 9,000 calls in 2012; in 2011, it had the eighth-busiest rescue (that’s an ambulance for you East Coast folks) in the nation, responding to 5,549 calls, according to the Firehouse® Magazine National Run Survey. In one recent shift, between our six first-in hotels (Excalibur, Hooters, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM and Tropicana), we ran 12 “Las Vegas Syndrome”-type calls on top of our other 35 calls, which included a house fire and a vehicle rollover.

Fred Goff


Clark County Fire Dept./11-B

Las Vegas, NV

The writer is an alumnus of the Rio Hondo Fire Academy and Rio Hondo Truck Academy. He volunteered with the American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. He currently is an Explorer Advisor with the CCFD. n