The Emergency Services Department (ESD) coordinates all professional emergency resources on the playa 24 hours a day, including requests to outside agencies via the state-of-the-art emergency dispatch center. ESD responsibilities cover all responses in the field to reports of fire, medical, or psychiatric emergencies. ESD’s highly-trained professionals volunteer long hours to ensure the safety and well being of Black Rock City. ESD and LEAL (Law Enforcement Agency Liaison) together provide the primary interface between all outside health and safety agencies and the Burning Man Project, both on the playa and year-round.


The 2007 Burning Man event was intense for Emergency Services Department (ESD). In addition to the “early burn” arson of the man, the increase in attendance kept the team busier than ever before. There were few periods of downtime for volunteers, leaving many exhausted by the end of their shift. This increase was expected and planned for, but still it hit the department unexpectedly hard. For 2007 one of the key items will be to increase resources to allow volunteers to get better rest.

As in 2006, the radio communications system experienced a critical level of bandwidth depletion due to increases in use. This was a known issue before the event. When peak use created system overload, technical savvy and understanding by staff reduced user frustration. Approval for increased system capacity has been granted and the project is underway to be resolved for 2008. This system is scalable and should provide enough bandwidth to last 5-10 years into the future.

From the 2006 post-event debriefing, we learned of the utility of a training video. Available online, this video would allow ESD volunteers to ‘pre-orient’ before arriving on-playa, to a final orientation. One segment of this video was produced in 2007, and it proved useful and effective, based on volunteer feedback. We will create new segments incrementally, and over the course of several years all branches of ESD will have training segments- all will be available online.

The addition of a new ESD position, that of Support Duty Chief (SDC), was added to help support all aspects of ESD- operations, administration, logistics, and morale. This role was designed to be a semi-autonomous and flexible resource to handle a variety of issues when the rest of the on-duty supervisors and officers needed extra support. Each Support Duty Chief had a different skill-set. When not being utilized in a formalized support capacity, the SDC would focus their time in their areas of expertise. This gave them the necessary flexibility to ‘float’ as needed, while still providing utility to their respective branches of operation.

In 2008, we recommend adding additional units to the response system, specifically an extra EMS response unit in the field, creating an EMS field supervisor position, and increasing the number of fire resources by at least one position.

Medical Branch Report

About this photo...ESD and Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) together logged approximately 4,375 patient contacts in 2007¬†(down 26% from 2006) with a peak combined patient volume of 754 patients seen on Saturday, September 1. Most of these patients are walk-ins with minor medical issues. Of the event-total patient contacts, 542 (up 23% from 2006) were significant enough to require an ESD EMS unit, REMSA ambulance, or other ESD first responder. That breaks down, on average to one EMS response every 26 minutes during the event. It is interesting to note that despite an overall decrease in total patient volume, EMS “911” responses increased. This resulted in increased workload for the medical staff, as each call usually requires a team response and ties the unit(s) up for 30 to 60 minutes.

Approximately 60% of the total patient volume involved minor injuries such as blisters or cuts. Other common patient categories included eye problems (8% of total patients), dehydration (11%), and patient care follow-up (5%). The remaining 16% of the total patient volume comprised of all other medical categories, including lacerations requiring sutures, allergies/insect bites, burns, and urinary tract infections (each representing 2-3% of the overall total patient volume).

The numbers for alcohol- and drug-related patients, were remarkably low for an event of this size. 2007 showed the largest spike in drug-related patients ever in the history of the event (79 total, up 400% from 2006) and a decrease in alcohol-related patients (19 total, down 45% from 2006). These numbers do not necessarily represent overdoses, only patients for whom drugs or alcohol were the primary reason for seeking medical care.

Of the 67 patients transported (an increase of 29% from 2006) to Reno hospitals for additional care in 2008, 41 were stable patients transported by ground ambulance, and 26 were flown out by helicopter.

There was one fatality this year during the event, which was determined a suicide.

Mental Health Branch, Fire Branch, and Emergency Dispatch Reports

The Mental Health Branch responded to 43 calls in 20087which is a 30% increase over the total calls for service in 2006. The breakdown by case type includes 17 psychiatric clients, five domestic violence -related cases, 10 sexual assault cases and four ‘Legal 2000’ evaluations (to determine if there is a danger to self or to others as a result of a mental illness). Additionally there were seven other calls for evaluations or client follow-up. The Mental Health support team was deployed one time, in response to the suicide.

About this photo...The Fire Branch responded to 40 fire-related calls for service, seven of which were significant fire responses. These significant calls are broken down as follows: two building fires, two trailer fires, one plane fire, one car fire and the “early burn” fire. One of the trailer fires and the “early man” burn are both considered arson cases, and are being investigated by the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office. The two building fires were electrical fires that were quickly isolated, and both of the trailer fires were fully involved fires resulting in the destruction of property. There were no significant injuries resulting from any of the fires. Other calls types include evaluations of various planned and unscheduled burns for safety, performance support, hazard mitigation, vehicle accident response, and extinguishment of small fires that may be unsafe, such as an abandoned active burn barrel during high wind conditions.

The ESD Emergency Dispatch center handled 799 calls for service in 2007, an increase of 22% from 2006. Call types include everything from requests for traffic control or public assistance to fire and emergency medical calls. The total number of calls average is one new logged dispatch incident once every 18 minutes during the event. In addition to new calls, dispatchers have the task of managing initial requests for Black Rock Ranger response, all currently active ESD calls, and all of the ESD response units in the field, which during peak hours can be as high as 30 EMS, Fire, Mental Health, and leadership resources.

Written and submitted by:
Joseph Pred, Emergency Services Operations Chief
David Barr, Plans Chief
Anna Duffy, Mental Health Branch Chief
Russ Kane, Fire Branch Chief
Dave Spencer, Communications Branch IT Group Chief