Over 60,000 people have had today’s date, June 30, marked on their calendars for months. Sequins, tulle, and bedazzled cowboy hats fill the sidewalks surrounding Paycor Stadium. It’s night one of The Eras Tour in Cincinnati, and Taylor Swift’s loyal fans have claimed the city.
Swift’s three-hour performance is complete with choreography, elaborate set pieces, and costume changes for each “era” of her music. She and her team have rehearsed and perfected every second of her setlist, sure to put on a show her audience won’t forget.
Another team has also spent countless hours preparing for tonight. The Kettering Health First Aid team, made up of nearly 50 people, huddles inside the stadium, ready to provide care to anyone who needs it. Hoping to keep the magic of the concert alive despite the heat that’s already engulfed the stadium.
The final preparations
Before the gates open, at 3 p.m., Tony Alexander, director of emergency management and outreach, gathers the team inside the Plaza, the main first aid station.
Tony has been involved with event medicine for more than 30 years. He knows each event brings something new. Something different. The team has come prepared, but anything can happen.
“You always try to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he shared. “And that’s our responsibility.”
There is a chance for thunderstorms in the evening, Tony tells everyone. But at 91 degrees, the biggest enemy will be the heat.
Anna Ludwick, manager of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) events, shares position assignments across the five first aid stations, seven roaming teams, and six ambulances.
Despite the endless possibilities, Anna knows the team can count on one thing tonight.
“Expect some volume,” she warns.
Searching for a needle in a sold-out stadium
When the gates open at 4:30, John Hildebrand, a paramedic and EMS coordinator, is on the floor mapping out the seats. It’s crucial, he explains, to know exactly where to go when a call comes from the dispatch center for someone who needs help.
Just as he’s finished making his mental map, a voice chimes in his earpiece. Fans are already collapsing before they enter the stadium.
Outside the gates, John reaches two overheated women just as a roaming team does. They hand them water and help them sit despite the crowd. But it’s difficult for the women to recover in the sun, so they’re taken in wheelchairs to cool off inside a first aid station. John has no time to cool off himself, though, as another call comes through for a young girl who feels she’s about to faint.
John weaves through the walls of people waiting for merchandise and snacks. Fans, seeing his Kettering Health logo, stop him to ask where their seats are. Recalling his mental map, John points them in the right direction without slowing his search for the girl.
He finds her after a few minutes with her mother and sister in the shade by the bathrooms. She’s sweating, shaking, and colorless. John leads her to the closest station and sits her down in front of a fan. He cracks a cold pack and rests it on the back of her neck.
As her color and enthusiasm return, two nurses trade Taylor-Swift-inspired friendship bracelets with her sister, bringing the concert spirit into the quiet station.
A well-oiled machine
Back in the Plaza, the hands of the nurses, EMTs, paramedics, and doctors never stop moving. The team is a well-oiled machine, simultaneously gathering patient information, checking pulses, and cracking cold packs.
The goal: cool people down quickly to make room for the next overheated person. “[At] an emergency room, they’re being monitored for hours,” Anna says. “We don’t have hours.”
Music from the opening act floods the station each time a roaming team wheels someone in. Fans are eager to find their seats before Swift takes the stage, but the heat proves to be more powerful than their adoration for the singer.
By the time Swift makes her first appearance at 8 p.m., there will have been 65 dispatch calls. This doesn’t include those who walked themselves into the stations as if the teal Kettering Health doors were a mirage in the desert.
Ice worth its weight in gold
After hours of anticipation, Swift takes the stage. Time seems to stand still for those watching. But the same can’t be said for the first aid team. Fans continue to fill all five stations.
Knowing what it takes to provide care at Paycor Stadium, the team came prepared with hundreds of cold packs, which are vital to bring down someone’s core temperature to avoid heat stroke. But when thousands of people wearing heavy cowboy hats and smothering tulle dresses bake in the sun, a touch of ingenuity is needed.
Needing more cold packs, Anna springs into action. For the sake of speed, one station has resourcefully been making ice packs out of medical gloves.
Anna applauds the nurses for their quick thinking and makes a few for the roaming teams—which ultimately turn into cold water balloons by the time they’re handed off—before grabbing two large bags of ice near the concessions stands and dragging them into the Plaza. Immediately, the team makes ice packs out of gloves and plastic bags, ready to help the still large crowd of overheating fans in their station.
As the sun sets, the stream of sweating fans slows but never stops.
Anything is possible
After 44 songs, Swift takes her final bow. Lighting strikes in the distance. An announcement of approaching inclement weather urges fans to exit the stadium quickly.
For most, the night is over. But the first aid team gears up for another wave of patients. The roaming teams bring in people having panic attacks. The long hours in the sun catch up to some and vomit bags are distributed throughout the Plaza. A woman is brought in after she tripped and skinned her right shin. A nurse peels away dead skin as the patient averts her eyes, wincing as the nurse sterilizes the area.
Just as the night winds down, another woman walks in holding her swollen belly. Her water just broke.
The team checks her vitals and puts her on a stretcher. They ask if it’s her first baby. It is.
Making their way to the ambulance, they assure her, “You’ll be OK.”
A moment to breathe
An hour after the concert, around midnight, the stadium is nearly empty. The only clues as to what happened are the beads of sweat dripping down everyone’s foreheads and the confetti picked up in the growing wind.
Tony gathers everyone for a quick debrief. The day consisted of 123 total dispatch calls and seven hospital transfers—a busy day for the entire team.
They celebrate with cupcakes, and in the silence that follows they know they’ve done their job. As everyone packs up their stations and personal belongings, they let out a collective sigh of relief.
But for Tony, Anna, John, and other members of the team, the respite won’t last long. They’ll be back early tomorrow to prepare for night two of The Eras Tour.
Ready to do it all over again.
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