New fallout from State Fair stage collapse tapes
There is new fallout from the tapes of emergency radio calls made moments after the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair.
13 Investigates obtained those tapes, which show that the Indianapolis Fire Department decided to increase its presence at the fairgrounds just weeks before the tragedy. It's a decision that may have saved lives. But it also reveals troubling flaws in the State Fair's mass casualty plan.
The audio tape speaks volumes about the successes and failures during that first critical hour.
"Go ahead. The stage has collapsed. Control Grandstand EMS. The Grandstands are gone! Fire control to Grandstand EMS, I'm calling a mass casualty."
Bone-chilling words from an Indianapolis firefighter, one of four assigned to work a 24-hour shift at the Indiana State Fair August 13. Within one minute, that frantic call brought six special response units and five medical transports to the scene with no delay.
That's the good news.
But in the first hour of audio recordings obtained by 13 Investigates between IFD Command, dispatchers, and EMS crews, a clear problem emerged: There was no clear path to get the injured assessed or to awaiting medics.
"It's going to be very difficult to set up a staging area for triage. It's extremely windy and the dust and the (unintelligible) are everywhere," said one of the first crews to respond.
An 11-page fire department post incident report details exactly what went wrong. But the city has blacked out its findings and refused to talk about them, citing a possible lawsuit.
Here's what 13 Investigates can determine:
Three EMS teams were covering the fairgrounds using mobile carts were away from their ambulance units as more fire trucks and teams of medics flooded into the main gate after the collapse.
Just after 9 p.m., radio complaints of ambulances getting in, but unable to get out.
"I have 13 and 27 en route. 5..20..24..31..and 61 are on property. They're trying to make their way to the grandstands but are meeting a great deal of gridlock," said the dispatcher.
In fact, the audio says one ambulance was loaded with two patients but had no driver.
"Looking for the driver of an ambulance - loaded and ready," the emergency worker told dispatch before having the driver paged.
Medics reported the walking wounded showing up to Red Cross and anywhere else they could get help. Under the treatment code, they were greens and yellows, but, in some cases, getting care before the "code reds" or those critically injured.
"Thus far, I have seven red, one yellow," reported one medic attending to the injured.
"Give me an update on what trucks you have. What we're running into is we have multiple people that are just taking off with patients. We're having a hard time controlling it. If we get medic trucks down here closer to the stage it would be really good," another crew member added.
"No transporting of green patients when they have red and yellow waiting," came a mandate from command.
Within minutes, transportation command raised another pressing problem on the south side of the collapsed stage, where a soggy track kept ambulances at bay.
"We need to rethink our strategy. It's not working. We need to get the trucks down here in order for us to start working the medical thing to get patients out of here. Do what we have to do. Have state police open up the line. But we need to get the trucks up here. We can't keep having the patients dragged across the pavement up to you," said the commander.
And in some areas, not a crew in sight.
"I'm out of transport units, but continuing to scrounge," reported one responder looking for an empty ambulance.
"What kind of plan do you have? What resources do you have down there? We're starting to go critical on a lot of our patients. They're starting to go from yellow to red on us, they're going into shock," warned another responder desperate to get patients help.
According to IFD, the last patients were transported just after 10:00 p.m.
The city has been put on notice by one collapse victim, who says he suffered post traumatic stress, amnesia, and seizures.
Eyewitness News reached out to the Indiana State Police and Indiana Homeland Security about their roles and are awaiting their responses.
Note: There is a slight variation of times around the collapse on the audio tapes. IFD's reports say the collapse occurred at 8:49pm, the audio tapes from Public Safety Communications are just a few minutes earlier.