Olympic EMS Team is Prepared

The eyes of the world are on Vancouver as the 2010 Winter Olympic Games begin with the opening ceremony. Providing emergency medical services for the estimated 5,500 athletes and the hundreds of thousands of spectators flooding the two main venues will...


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The eyes of the world are on Vancouver as the 2010 Winter Olympic Games begin with the opening ceremony.

Providing emergency medical services for the estimated 5,500 athletes and the hundreds of thousands of spectators flooding the two main venues will be a daunting task, but Bob Alexander has a plan and he's ready.

Alexander is the EMS coordinator for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games for both Vancouver and the secondary site north in Whistler. He's a paramedic and supervisor for the British Columbia Ambulance Service (BCAS), the provincial government-operated emergency medical service for the entire area.

"We've got a good plan and I am confident it will work well," said Alexander, who has been in EMS for 27 years. For that quarter century, Alexander has been involved with planning and protection for many large venues, including a 1993 summit between U.S. President Bill Clinton and then-Soviet Union President Boris Yeltsin; huge bayside firework festivals attracting 300,000 people; worldwide environmental summits and conventions; and large professional hockey games.

He's also been to Beijing, China and Turin, Italy to see how EMS was provided for those Olympic games.

He learned a lot, but things will be different for the Vancouver games, Alexander said. For instance, well-equipped field hospitals are in place in Vancouver and Whistler, which will minimize the need for transport to local area hospitals and trauma centers.

The BCAS, which is completely funded by the Canadian government, will be the sole EMS provider for both venues with no need for mutual aid or outside agencies, thereby creating uniform and consistent delivery of services, and more importantly, accurate and complete reporting.

Because of the staffing requirements and resources, combined with field hospitals available to handle everything from stitches to bone settings and casts, to simple surgery, dental care and ophthalmology, Alexander can handle all the routine and anticipated calls with ease.

"The idea is not to overburden the area hospitals with all the extra calls," Alexander said. "I will be sort of a failure if we can't take care of it on site."

Obviously massive trauma or large cardiac events will be transported to the appropriate hospital quickly, Alexander said, but routine calls will be handled in-house. Doctors and nurses will be available at both sites with digital x-rays, CT scans, MRI equipment and surgical beds. Whistler will use two large, 53-foot tractor trailer units with expansion pull outs for field hospitals.

Because definitive care will be available on site, Alexander said EMS staff and response times can be reduced, and it won't be necessary to call on outside agencies for help. Ambulances can stay right on the property and won't have to travel into metro areas with patients, as with Olympic Games held in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

Each of the events will have two ambulances with crews of two paramedics each; one crew dedicated to the athletes and one to the spectators. If one crew gets summoned to provide care, the other unit will cover both athletes and spectators until the other unit is cleared. Additionally, the paramedics will be supplemented by trained volunteers, like ski patrols and event spotters, who can help during a medical emergency.

British Columbia Ambulance Service employs about 3,500 full and part-time paramedics to provide coverage for the entire province, which is 929,730 square kilometers. Alexander said that resources allowed him to pull 350 paramedics to provide coverage for the Olympics, all of whom voluntarily signed up for the rotation of 12-hour shifts. The total number of paramedics on duty at any given time will be difficult to predict because of the variety of the events that are happening and the length of time for which they will run. Paramedics may need to stay for longer shifts - up to 18 hours for some events, Alexander said.

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