First responders prepare for Rally

By: 
Jason Ferguson
First responders from in and around Custer County gathered at the Custer County Courthouse last Thursday, July 25, for the group’s annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally roundtable, discussing action plans, preparing and strategizing the best ways to keep people safe and to assist those who need help as the annual Rally rolls into town later this week.
The meeting was led by Custer County emergency management director Mike Carter, who said projections for this year’s Rally “border on mundane,” but adding that first responders can’t count on that.
“Plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
Carter said there has already been “lots of action” in Custer State Park and the Rally can bring out inexperienced riders who aren’t familiar with how to navigate some of the area’s trickier roads. A smaller crowd can mean that bikes can go faster, he said, which could cause an uptick in accidents. Fewer vendors in town could also mean fewer bikers getting off their bikes in town and more riding in the area.
The group went over communication plans, stressing cooperation and the need to keep radio traffic short and concise, so important channel traffic will not be interrupted. Carter asked the group to wait until a responder is on scene at any incident before asking for an update, instead of asking dispatch for updates.
“They don’t have that information,” he said.
Carter said it is important for a command structure to be established on scene at any incident, as well as making sure responders wear reflective vests for safety. Anyone not wearing such a vest will either have to put one on or leave the scene, he said.
The first responder to arrive on scene is responsible for situational awareness, Carter said, and he asked responders not to respond to a scene if there is already sufficient response.
“The last thing we need is 10 people at an event when we only need five,” he said. If more help is requested, he said, more responders can report to the scene.
Should an accident require the use of Life Flight, he said, it is important a landing zone be secured and coordinates of that zone be communicated. The closing down of roads should be avoided when forming landing zones if at all possible, he said.
Carter said incidents with ATVs and UTVs are on the rise and typically have injuries and are located in rural areas. He attributed the spike to the rising popularity of renting the machines combined with relative inexperience of those who rent them.
Carter touched on the possibility of motorcycle gangs coming, although he cautioned there is no intelligence that suggests that will occur. However, he said, if a responder has to work on a gang member who has been in an accident, he said, they should ask another gang member to remove the injured person’s colors and not just begin cutting them off the injured person.
“You start cutting those colors and you’re probably going to have another accident right there,” he said.
First responders will be stationed throughout Custer State Park for faster response times. The Custer County Sheriff’s Office won’t be one of those, however, Lt. Jeff McGraw told the group. It will instead focus on the eastern and western sides of the county, allowing the Highway Patrol and Custer State Park conservation officers to handle park incidents unless the sheriff’s office is needed. The park will add additional officers during the Rally and the Highway Patrol will have five or six troopers in the Southern Hills.
“We always work together well and we all have the same goal,” Sheriff Marty Mechaley said.
Custer ambulance will have three coaches and a first response vehicle available, with one of the coaches in the park. Custer County Search and Rescue will mirror the ambulance service. Life Flight will have three helicopters available — one focused on the Northern Hills, one in Rapid City and one in the Southern Hills — as well as two fixed-winged aircraft.
Susan Bawdon of Custer Regional Hospital said the hospital will be overstaffed for two weeks for the Rally and will bring in two additional providers.
Custer State Park conservation officer Jim Ganser said first responders need to be prepared to deal with snake bites. He recently removed a rattlesnake that had 11 buttons from behind the park’s visitor center. A rattlesnake bite will immediately trigger a Life Flight call, he said.
Tim Wicks of the S.D. Department of Transportation said all road construction will come to a halt during the Rally. Other traffic discussion included how wreckers will be handled. Carter said only the incident commander or law enforcement should order a wrecker. Although Olson Towing will have wreckers stationed in the park during the Rally, a rotating list of wrecker providers is used for accidents. However, those in attendance agreed they shouldn’t wait too long for the next provider on the list to bring a wrecker. Custer Volunteer Fire Department member Joe Harbach said there have been recent incidents where it took “ungodly long” for a wrecker to arrive.
“The main thing is to get them off the road so we don’t have another accident,” he said.
Entities represented at the meeting included Custer County Sheriff’s Office; Custer County Emergency Management; law enforcement from Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument; Black Hills Life Flight; City of Custer; Battle Creek Fire Department; Custer County Search and Rescue;  Custer Regional Hospital; Fall River County Emergency Management; Custer, Argyle, Pringle and Fairburn volunteer fire departments; Custer County Highway Department;  Red Cross;  Custer County Commission; Fall River County Emergency Man-agement; S.D. Department of Transportation; Custer Ambulance Service;  and Crazy Horse Memorial.
“I think someone in the room should say thank you for what you do and how much you care,” said Monique Ziolkowski of Crazy Horse. “You’re a hell of a crew.”

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