New Orleans Responders Prepared for Mardi Gras

The New Orleans Carnival season is set to kick off on Friday and the city's primary EMS provider is prepared for a heavy load of calls leading up to Fat Tuesday.

"Our employees know not to ask for time off," New Orleans EMS spokesman Jeb Tate said. "It's going to be 10 long days."

The provider has already had a busy start to 2012 with the New Year's Eve celebration coupled with the BCS football championship game.

"All of those really went off without a hitch," he said. "We had great participation from our crews."

Tate is quick to point out though, that while large-scale events such as music festivals or championship games require a lot of attention, there is no comparison when it comes to Mardi Gras.

"Those big events that come through -- they come through for a day. Mardi Gras is 10 days. At the end, our crews are pretty tired," he said. "You get dispatched to a single incident and you may end up responding to three on the way to the hospital."

Director/Deputy Chief of Logistics and Special Operations Ken Bouvier said that plans for Carnival are made throughout the year as officials pore over the stats from the previous year.

"We're always willing to look at what happened last year and what we can change," he said. "For the most part everything went well last year and we aren't making many major changes."

The agency will run 25 ambulances, six sprint cars, two ASAP units, two bike teams, an 18-person Surge Unit and a myriad of other resources.

The ambulances are strategically placed along the parade routes, and Bouvier said they go to hospitals situated on the same side that the incident takes place.

"We try to not cross the crowds unless it is a potential disaster," he said.

New Orleans EMS also has foot teams that are able to get through the crowds of revelers to access patients.

A few years ago, the city teamed up with the American Red Cross, and Tate says that so far it has proved to be a success.

"They take the more minor calls for us. They monitor our radio channels and we dispatch them to those calls," he said. "It couldn't be any better. All they ask from the city is some logistical support as far as barricades to put around their stations."

The Red Cross sets up tents along parade routes and has EMTs on staff who work on a first responder level.

"If there is even a slight chance they'll need a transport they'll call us," Bouvier said.

While New Orleans has their share of trauma calls from people falling off ladders and in some cases balconies, a majority of the calls are medical-related.

As far as the crowds Carnival brings in, Tate said that while the city saw a decrease in revelers for a few years following Hurricane Katrina, the crowds are now as large as they ever have been.

As the thousands of visitors begin to arrive in the city, EMS officials are putting the finishing touches on their plans to make sure they are prepared.

"It's crunch time right now," Bouvier said. "You've got to think about everything from medicine administration to having spare tires for the bicycles. You can't leave anything uncovered."