Scott Johnson

We are fortunate to live in a community where a system can be easily activated whenever and wherever help is needed. It is put in action every day. Last Tuesday morning was a good example.  

10:38 a.m.: A 9-1-1 telephone call is received at the Itasca County Sheriff’s Communication Center. The caller is reporting a medical emergency at a local residence.

10:39 a.m.: After gathering some basic information, the dispatcher sets off radio tones to send a message over the Meds-1 paramedics’ pagers and broadcasts the call to Grand Rapids Police Officers. “Scaffolding collapse. At least two men injured. Compound fractures of the legs. Report of multiple injuries.” The dispatcher continues to gather information and relay it to officers and paramedics.

10:40 a.m.: The first police patrol officer arrives at the scene. As is the case with all Grand Rapids Police Officers, the officer has received emergency first aid training and is certified by the State of Minnesota as an Emergency Medical Responder. In addition to the initial 60 hours of training, Meds-1 provides eight hours of annual training for officers to maintain their certification. Meds-1 provides this at no cost to the City. The police car that the officer drives to the scene is equipped with an emergency first aid kit, oxygen and an automated cardiac defibrillator. 

10:41 a.m.: Additional officers arrive. These include a second police patrol officer, the patrol sergeant, three detectives, the Assistant Chief of Police and Chief.  

In the side yard of the house, officers find two construction workers on the ground. They are in intense pain. Two aluminum ladders are laying on the ground next to them. A scaffolding plank had been stretched between the ladders. It is clear that each of the men has fractured ankles.   One man’s leg bone is exposed. This is called a compound or open fracture. If you have ever seen this, you will know what I mean when I say it is not a pretty sight. All the officers can do is immobilize the fracture, treat for shock and wait for the paramedics to arrive.

10:43 a.m.: The first of two Meds-1 ambulances arrives at the scene, staffed by three paramedics. This type of fracture cannot be splinted using traditional splints. Instead, one must use a pillow as a splint, wrapping the pillow around the injury and securing it with gauze. Officers have already obtained a pillow from the next-door neighbor and are supporting the ankles when the paramedics arrive. An Itasca County Sheriff’s Lieutenant is also on scene to help provide care. He is aware of the call because all law enforcement agencies in the county use the same radio channels. 

10:44 a.m.: The second ambulance arrives with three more paramedics. They also begin emergency treatment. 

Within six minutes of the time the 9-1-1 call was received at the communications center, there are eight peace officers, six paramedics and two ambulances on scene. The fractures are being immobilized, vital signs monitored; the men are being treated for shock. Paramedics are injecting the men with pain killing drugs and talking with the medical staff in the Grand Itasca Emergency Room where a surgeon is waiting. 

A medical transport aircraft has been placed on standby. The man who received the most serious injury will be flown from the emergency room to a hospital in Duluth where a surgical team awaits his arrival. He will be in Duluth 20 minutes after leaving Grand Rapids. After further stabilization at Grand Itasca Hospital, the other injured man will be taken to Duluth by ground ambulance. 

Best guess is that there were probably about 100 people with specialized training having some part in caring for the victims of this construction accident. It is truly a very coordinated system, one that can be expanded as needed, with each step increasing availability of specialized knowledge and care. This is repeated on some scale many times each day. To activate the system, all one needs to do is press three numbers on a telephone keypad, “9-1-1.” When you think about it, this really is an amazing thing. 


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