Emergency Services Department

The following statistics are presented for each branch of the ESD in order to give our participants, the media and cooperating agencies useful information on the volume and types of emergencies that occur during the course of each year's event cycle.

Medical Branch Statistics

ESD and Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) together logged approximately 4700 patient contacts in 2010 (approximately 250 more patients than in 2009) with a peak combined patient volume of 834 patients seen on Thursday, September 2. This is equivalent to 35 patients per hour combined at all three medical stations in Black Rock City. Most of these patients were walk-ins with minor medical issues. Of the event-total patient contacts 562 were significant enough to require an ESD EMS unit, REMSA ambulance, or other ESD first response that translates to an average of one EMS response every 25 minutes during the operational period of the event.

Approximately 31% of the total patient volume involved minor injuries such as blisters or cuts. Other common patient categories included dehydration (7.9% of total patients), extremity trauma (9.4%), wound rechecks (2.8%), and eye problems (7.2%). Other medical care categories included urinary tract infections (3.3%), difficulty breathing (3.3%) abdominal pain/diarrhea (2.6%), burns (2.5%), allergies/insect bites (1.6%), headaches (1.7%), burns (2.5%), and lacerations requiring sutures (1.2%). The numbers for alcohol- and drug-related patients continue to be remarkably low for an event of this size. In 2010 ESD and REMSA treated a total of 99 drug related patients (1.3%), and 85 total alcohol-related patients (1.9%). These numbers do not necessarily represent drug and/or alcohol overdoses, only patients for whom drugs or alcohol were the primary reason for seeking medical care. All other chief complaint categories were at or below 1%.

Of the 45 patients transported (an increase of 29% from 2009) to Reno hospitals for additional care in 2010, 34 were stable patients transported by ground ambulance, and 11 were flown out by helicopter.

There was one fatality associated with the event this year. A 52-year-old female was transported off playa for an unknown medical condition and later died at a hospital in Reno.

Communications Branch, Dispatch Group Statistics

The ESD Emergency Dispatch center handled 832 calls for service in 2010, an increase of 3.6% from 2009. Call types include everything from requests for traffic control or public assistance to fire and emergency medical calls. This averaged as one new logged dispatch incident once approximately every 17 minutes during the event. In addition to new calls, dispatchers have the task of managing initial requests for Black Rock Ranger or Law Enforcement 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 command resources.

Mental Health Branch Statistics

The Mental Health Branch responded to 26 calls in 2010, which is a 50% decrease over the total calls for service in 2009. The breakdown by case type includes 12 psychiatric clients, three cases related to domestic violence, four sexual assault cases and two '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 five other calls for evaluations or client follow-up.

The decrease in calls is partially due to operational changes by Law Enforcement not calling in MHB staff when needed as in the past. It is hoped that the new Pershing County Sherriff, who has expressed interest in increased inter-agency cooperation, will resolve the operational issues faced in the past few years.

Fire Branch Statistics

The Fire Branch responded to 39 fire-related calls for service (a 56% decrease from 2009), none of which were significant responses. Call 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.

Operational Update

New resource: Child Respite Center

New for 2010 was the creation of an ESD Mental Health Branch Child Respite Center, allowing for an alternative option to handing minors over to Child Protection Services. To be clear this is not a child day care center for participants of the event, it’s an internal resource designed for minors that need a safe temporary place to stay if they get separated from their parents. It’s staffed by mental health professionals and para-professionals that have experience working with children and adolescents. Once a child is placed at the Child Respite Center, they can only be released to their parents or guardian by approval of law enforcement and the Child Respite Center manager. Thankfully this resource was only needed three times this year and was hailed as a resounding success based on reports from Law Enforcement, Black Rock Rangers and ESD staff.

New post assignment: Sanctuary

Sanctuary is another internal resource that is shared by ESD and the Black Rock Rangers. As we have developed operationally it became obvious that assigning a member of the ESD Medical Branch would provide medical stand-by care if needed, an extra set of hands otherwise, and an excellent opportunity for cross-pollination between the two departments. This post was staffed on an experimental basis this year to get feedback on the utility and value of such a position. Based on reports from both ESD and the Black Rock Rangers having the ESD medical provider at Sanctuary was beneficial and appreciated.

New operational unit: Special Events

As Burning Man grows in complexity as a city it begins to take on more and more qualities of a urban landscape, however temporary Black Rock City may be. As such groups have been organizing special events that happen on the playa and several of the larger ones take on the characteristics of special events that happen back in the real world. Regardless where they happen emergency resources need to be assigned in case of problems and Black Rock City has grown to the point where ESD now has a dedicated Special Events supervisor who coordinates and liaisons with those organizing Thunderdome and various foot races like the ultra marathon. By planning and communicating in advance ESD was better able to handle the emergencies that happened in the vicinity of these events and as a result was able to keep the primary response resources available for emergency use.

Safety Team

The ESD Safety team, which was formed in 2008, does common sense inspections of theme camp and participant structures, has continued to grow by tapping into existing and experienced ESD managers to help resolve issues that may emerge on the playa. For 2012 it is hoped to further expand operations to improve communication and operational overlap with the Fire Are Safety Team and the Eyes on Art team.

ESD Communications: Airport Support

The ESD Communications Radio Group greatly increased air safety for Airport Operations by installing radio equipment to boost their UNICOM radio range. This radio is especially important for communicating with incoming aircraft, including providing safety information, updates on conditions, and to a very limited extent, traffic control.

Lockout Team

The ESD lockout team was created in the vacuum that was left when another group that offered those services was no longer active. Over the last few years it has grown from an informal team to a developed system of on call locksmiths and rescue technicians who help those who have unfortunately locked themselves out of their vehicles. Working in parallel with the AAA tow trucks which were also providing lockout service for free on playa this year, service was vastly improved for participants. For 2011 a focus on improving communication and coordination between the ESD lockout team, Community Services Playa Info, and AAA while hopefully produce better coverage and shorter wait times for participants in need. Of course, for emergencies ESD relies on the on-duty fire fighters to unlock or gain emergency access to a locked vehicle for vital medications or entrapments.

Update: Public Agency Liaison

For the past few years ESD has been developing the concept of a Public Agency Liaison (PAL) that performs a similar function to the Black Rock Ranger Law Enforcement Agency Liaison (LEAL) team. While all ESD officers by default are agency liaisons to every category of outside agency (not just law enforcement), ESD has decided to designate those involved in year round relationships with outside agencies with this title to clearly delineate those who have established relationships for the purposes of improving operational interoperability for all involved departments and agencies.

Public Education: Kids

At the request of Kidsville organizers several ESD “fieldtrips” were organized this year to teach kids about fire fighting and EMS. Along the way the kids learned about first aid, fire safety, and what to do in emergencies. The parents seemed to have as much fun as the kids and ESD plans on continuing this collaboration with Kidsville in future years. This is just one more thing that makes Black Rock City feel like a real city to us who do this kind of outreach in our home departments back in the real world.

New Unit Resource: GPS

Emergencies know no limitation and high winds often bring risk of wind-driven fires. Of course on the playa winds also cause white outs. To enable fire resources to respond even in poor visibility conditions GPS units were installed to be able to respond in those circumstances. While we hope ESD never has to rely on GPS to get to an incident, we rest just a little bit easier knowing we have resources in place in the event of such a situation.


All volunteers at Burning Man are civil servants and the members of ESD are no different, except for being drawn almost exclusively from a dedicated professional corps who serve their communities back home in the same manner they serve here on the playa. Unfortunately many ESD volunteers report that their work in the real world can induce professional burnout due to the dreary pressures and realities of working in public safety. But serving in Black Rock City, where our patients express appreciation and thanks, many ESD volunteers leave their service for the year feeling recharged, inspired, and ready to take on the world again. It’s an important reminder why we do what we love. To us it’s an honor and a privilege to serve our community here on playa.

For more information about ESD please refer to the ESD history page and the ESD sub-domain at http://911.burningman.com.

Submitted by,
Joseph Pred, with contributions from Kate Gonnella, Anna Duffy, Hugh Kane, Dave Spencer