What do you do when 40,000 people arrive for a special event in your fire district, which is accustomed to responding to a 13,000-person population? Add to that the fact that 20,000 of those people are participating in an extreme sport that includes running, jumping and sliding down hills in mud.
Chanhannon, Ill., hosted an extreme event that included 12obstacles traversing fields and woods and consisting of climbing through trenches, crawling under barbed wire, climbing over vertical walls, wading through a pool of muddy water, traveling down a slip-and-slide that exits in more mud, traversing over wrecked cars and through a ravine, jumping over fire, then finishing up in neck-deep mud water. Injuries happen.
The Minooka Fire Protection District, which covered the event, is a two-station organization with eight on-duty personnel that is made up of full-time and part-time personnel. The department responds to an average of six calls for service daily. So how did it extend service to cover the event while continuing its normal service? The quick answer is preplanning, incident action plans and partnerships.
The district first hosted the event first in 2011, and the FPD did not know what to expect. Research indicated that this was going to be a challenging event for the district to handle on its own. The fire leadership knew that they wanted to play it safe and have more than enough resources at the site for the first event. The department could always readjust if Minooka hosted subsequent events.
Members of the fire service learn incident management for mass-casualty incidents. However, each organization defines what constitutes an MCI. In this department, a mass casualty is defined as five or more seriously injured patients requiring treatment and transport to the hospital; a large metropolitan fire department could define it as more than 10 or 20patients.
After visiting the event organizer’s website to see the number of people who would be participating in the event — between 30,000 and 40,000 people in attendance, with 20,000 participating in the extreme run — it became obvious that the district was preparing to host a mass-gathering event.
The fire district never encountered such a large event. Leaders felt it was going to be a learning process, to some degree, but were convinced it was going to be a success because of already-strong relationships with local police and mutual-aid partnerships through the Illinois Mutual-Aid Box Alarm System.
The fire district began planning more than six months prior to the event. Organizers met monthly during the first three months, every two weeks as the event drew near, and then multiple times during the week preceding the event. The department planned the event response from the ground floor, relying on its members’ experience and research intelligence to establish an incident action plan.
The department primarily would be responding to medical calls, so — according to the Responsibility, Authority and Expertise (RAE) model of unified command — it became the lead incident commander and coordinator for event services. The Channahon Police Department and the fire district would work together in a unified command structure. Police took the lead for coordinating police assets and liaison with neighboring police agencies and the village’s public-works department.
The city of Joliet, a few miles from the district, previously had hosted the same event. The department sent a member to aid the district during planning sessions and give leadership a better understanding of exactly what the department would face. The Joliet Fire Department has further experience handling large-crowd events at the Chicagoland Speedway.
The chief of the Troy Fire District also had previous experience in command and control of NASCAR and many other mass-gathering events from his time in Joliet. The fire chiefs of Minooka and Troy acted as command and control through the event and coordinated the planning, while deputy chiefs of Minooka and Troy fire districts and Minooka’s EMS coordinator directed field operations and logistics.