Originally created 08/30/97

Recounts response to I-20 tragedy



Re the front page Aug. 12 article:

The Wilkes County Emergency Medical Service, where I am director, was the initial ambulance service requested to respond to the disastrous Aug. 10 motor vehicle accident on Interstate 20.

This accident occurred in Taliaferro County, which has no EMS service. An approximate 10-mile stretch of I-20 runs through this county. This stretch has the highest fatality rate of any stretch of the interstate. The Wilkes County EMS covers Taliaferro County. ... Our EMS station is 23 miles from where the accident occurred.

On Aug. 10, Wilkes County EMS received a call from our 911 dispatch at 7:34 a.m. Our first unit responded with one paramedic and one emergency medical technician at 7:35 a.m. I was notified by my unit that they were responding to the accident involving a bus with approximately 12 children who were thrown from it. I went to our station to take a second ambulance and notified two other off-duty paramedics of what was taking place. The second unit went on route at 7:40 a.m.

The off-duty paramedics called surrounding counties (McDuffie, Warren, Greene and Elbert) and notified Med-Serv helicopter service as well as Georgia Baptist Hospital helicopter service. A third Wilkes County EMS unit went en route with a paramedic and an EMT at 8:05 a.m., taking extra linen, IV fluids and supplies. All counties notified responded immediately to the scene.

Washington Fire/Rescue also responded. The Siloam department was the first on the scene and notified our units of how many patients there were and the extent of the injuries. Our first EMS arrived on the scene at 8:03 a.m. with our second unit (which I was on) arriving at 8:05 a.m. I took control as the triage officer and began assigning patients to EMS personnel, separating the more critical from the more stable.

Our third unit, which brought extra supplies, arrived at 8:23 a.m. We had a total of 13 patients, all ejected, with one fatality on the scene; patients were scattered along the east bound lane. First responders on the scene prior to the EMS were delivering basic life support until advanced EMS units from all areas arrived.

Med-Serv helicopter of Madison was the first chopper on the scene, arriving at 8:12 a.m. Due to the number of patients, Med-Serv employees assisted EMS employees in triaging and packaging patients. This helicopter lifted off at 8:25 a.m. and landed at the University Hospital helicopter helipad at MCG with the patient at 8:56 a.m. The Georgia Baptist helicopter landed at the scene at 8:41 a.m., lifting off at 9:10 a.m. enroute to MCG with their patient.

Many do not realize that the closest trauma unit center, MCG, is 77 miles away from the scene of the accident.

Three patients were flown from the scene, while the others were transported by ground ambulances.

There was a total of four severe head injuries that we decided to fly to the trauma center, but the fourth went by ground due to the unavailability of a helicopter. Each patient required at least two paramedics for treatment.

I have been involved in the EMS field for more than 24 years and have seen many major disaster-type situations. Each service and department, plus bystanders, worked closely and rapidly together in caring for all of these victims. I don't believe there was a delay in any of the triaging or transporting of any of these patients. We even had two doctors on the scene who stopped to assist.

Since we were so far away from a trauma facility, it is my belief lives were saved due to rapid medical treatment, when the outcome could have been much worse.

Blake Thompson, Washington

(Editors note: The author is the director of Wilkes County Emergency Medical Service.)