Emergency Services

The Emergency Services Department of the Rangers (ESDR) consists of highly-trained professionals from a variety of emergency services fields and experience bases. These volunteers work long hours to ensure the safety and well-being of Black Rock City. They also provide the primary interface between outside emergency service agencies and the Burning Man organization, both on-playa and year-round. The ESDR has four branches: Fire, Medical, Communications, and Crisis. These branches function with the integrated fire service model for command, control, and structure. Nationally recognized standard operating procedures, such as the use of Battalion Chiefs and the Incident Command System, provide smooth integration with outside and allied agencies to maximize safety and security for participants, volunteers, and emergency services personnel. For more information, email 911@burningman.com.

ESDR’s Fire branch keeps Black Rock City safe from fires that could endanger life and property; equally importantly, the Fire branch is one of the key elements in making “burns” safe and enjoyable. The Fire branch interfaces and cooperates with the Art department, the Pyro Safety Team (PST), the pyrotechnic team, North Tree Fire, and the Rangers. The Fire branch’s key role is to provide safety planning and Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT) during these burns.

The Fire branch and North Tree Fire provided fire engines and firefighters to the three 24-hour stations in Black Rock City. Even with fire’s central role in the event, fire-related emergencies requiring responses remain infrequent.

A new theme camp was born this year: For the first time, most of the Fire Branch volunteers camped together to create Station #1 of the Black Rock City Volunteer Fire Department, . The intent was to integrate the Fire branch into the Burning Man community and to create a space the community of fire fighters could call Home. True to fire tradition, Station #1 was complete with an authentic old-style hose tower and a brick-façade engine house. These also served as a shade structure for Black Rock City Engine #1, a lookout tower, and a pleasant portico to the camp. Neighboring theme camps loved it, and plans are in the works to jointly apply for village status for 2003.

Each year since 1994, The Man has borne a brass plaque commemorating firefighters who have lost their lives. This year, Russ Kane, Fire Branch Chief, and Dale Scott, Fire Chief Emeritus, created an ESDR-sponsored ceremony to commemorate all responders lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and all those who last year fell in the line of duty throughout America. The ceremony joined ESD, Local, State, and Federal Law Enforcement, BLM Fire, REMSA, and North Tree Fire with many members of our community. The gathering was warmed by burn barrels brought from New York – barrels crafted by New York burners to warm the NYPD, FDNY, PAPD and countless others on the cold fall nights in lower Manhattan during the recovery efforts. One by one, participants read from cards bearing the names and affiliations of the fallen, and dropped each card into a brass box. At each name, a bell tolled: the century-old San Francisco fire bell, which has never before left the city. The ceremony closed with a fireworks salute of 21 airbursts, and the brass box was transported to the Temple of Joy. Many thanks to the LLC, Rangers, Echelon, Music, DPW, and SEAL and all of the others who helped honor the fallen.

The Medical branch works closely with REMSA (Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority), the Fire branch, and North Tree Fire to provide a municipal-style EMS system much like the systems that serve most other cities in the United States. The Medical branch staffs two 24-hour stations at the 90 and 270 degree plazas and provides rapid first-response medical care anywhere within Black Rock City. Each station has a quick-response vehicle dedicated to medical responses, and a 24-hour supervisor. These stations are jointly served by fire engines from North Tree Fire and the Fire branch. The engines can also function in an EMS role when fixed medical resources are depleted.

REMSA provides ambulance service within Black Rock City, staffs the Center Camp clinic, and handles all ground and air transportation to local hospitals. REMSA and the Medical branch are fully integrated operationally during the event.

On average, there were 161 patient contacts per day during the event (lightest day: 72, heaviest day: 259). Most of these (513 cases total) were “booboos” and minor injuries. Other common medical problems included eye problems (172 cases total) and heat-related injuries (181 cases total). Only 25 patients were transported off-site via ground or air, a 41% reduction from last year. Total patient volume also decreased by 20%, despite a significantly larger population. There were no deaths associated with the event this year.

New for this year was the establishment of a DPW extension of Emergency Services. A DPW staff member did double duty, functioning as a medical provider during the set-up and tear-down of Black Rock City. Future expansion of this service is planned to include an infirmary and additional medical resources year round.

The Communications branch provides two major services: an emergency services dispatch center, and the communications infrastructure for the entire event.

The dispatch center functions as a fully staffed 24-hour 911 public safety answering point. It coordinates all emergency responses within Black Rock City for the ESDR and allied agencies like REMSA. The dispatch center also provides a direct interface to all outside agencies such as law enforcement. A first for 2002, the BLM Command Post Dispatch and the Burning Man emergency dispatch center were located in the same building. The unprecedented flow of information between BLM, law enforcement and Burning Man Emergency Services allowed all of the event’s public safety agencies to provide improved service and safety to participants.

Utilizing the latest technologies, the dispatch center has a variety of tools at its disposal: alphanumeric paging, satellite communications, computer-aided dispatch, radio system control consoles, and other administrative resources. Despite the advanced technology, some departments experienced new problems with the communications system this year. Fortunately, the purchase of additional equipment and the use of better-suited equipment will resolve this problem for 2003.

All Burning Man departments that make the event happen depend on reliable two-way communications to get their job done. The communications infrastructure provides the means for this. Utilizing a network of repeaters both on site and remote, the Communications branch ensures that the system has fail-safe and redundancy technologies in order to cope with the harsh conditions of the Black Rock Desert. This is critical, because any department that loses its ability to communicate loses its ability to do its job. A hardy team of about 12 engineers and technicians work year round to ensure the integrity of the system.

The Communications branch also provides year-round communication in the larger region, coordinating communications among Gerlach, Black Rock Station, and Black Rock City.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) consists of eight highly-trained and dedicated psychiatric professionals. Six were on active duty this year, plus a manager/backup. The CIT responds to psychiatric cases, performs crisis intervention for crime victims, and provides victim advocacy to local agencies such as law enforcement and local hospitals. This year, as in previous years, they responded to about a dozen cases on the playa.

As a canvas-maker is to a painter, these four branches weave a fabric of safety that supports the creation of art and community. As paint, brush, and canvas are bound together by the art, they become inseparable and transformed. Emergency services is its own art, practiced and performed, quietly and proudly, 24 hours a day, somewhere in Black Rock City.

Submitted by,
Joseph Pred,
Emergency Services Operations Chief

Russ Kane, Fire Branch Chief
Damon LaRose, Dispatch Branch Chief
David Barr, Fire Branch Deputy Chief, Planning

Click here to read the 2001 Emergency Services.