VOICES: Small, rural fire departments manage big challenges - with your support

When Mechanicsburg Fire Department officials received notification that country music superstar Luke Bryan would be holding an outdoor concert on Sept. 16, we knew that there would be serious challenges to address. As the Assistant Fire Chief/EMS Coordinator, I know firsthand that large entertainment events of this nature bring unique issues with it.

We were given the task of making sure that not only the general safety needs of the event would be addressed, but also that the onsite emergency medical service needs of all patrons would be properly provided for — all while also ensuring that continued service to the general public would not be interrupted. In a community with a service population of roughly 7,500 residents, a sudden influx of 15,000 concertgoers creates a substantial challenge for public safety.

Notification of the event occurred in early spring of 2022. That gave us less than six months to prepare. Mechanicsburg Fire Chief Robert Keene immediately began to formulate a plan to ensure a successful and safe event. Knowing that the magnitude of such an event would create a staffing hardship, Chief Keene reached out to surrounding departments to ask for their assistance. Johnson St Paris Fire Department, Madison County EMD, Jerome Twp., Fire Dept. and NECCFD all graciously committed to send an EMS crew along with a vehicle to the event to help ease staffing concerns.

I coordinated EMS oversight efforts with a group of local volunteer nurses from Mercy Health Systems. Collectively, the onsite medical staffing consisted of highly competent pre-hospital paramedics, nursing and EMT medical professionals.

Substantial input from the concert organizers proved to be an invaluable resource in key decisions. Contracted event security worked closely with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to ensure orderly conduct and safety of all concert patrons. Public safety services from surrounding counties would also provide additional resources in terms of equipment and expanded communication capabilities.

Finally, event day arrived, and the Luke Bryan “Farm Tour” concert proved to be a success for all involved. Thanks to the meticulous efforts of those charged with the task of onsite general safety, recordable incidents were kept at a minimum. Fire inspectors also assured structural integrity of all assembled platforms was never compromised.

Managing a rural Fire Department that typically employs a select staff of part-time employees presents its own set of challenges. Rural Fire/EMS department administrators often find themselves devoting more uncompensated personal time and efforts in assuring that their department is in compliance with all applicable laws, codes and regulations.

These day-to-day challenges can prove to be overwhelming to the administrative staff, and likewise to the part-time and volunteer staff who also have to juggle other employment and home life.

The general public is largely unaware of these issues and may even take for granted the availability of the service itself, without realizing the tremendous sacrifices required.

Residents of communities such as Mechanicsburg are fortunate to have dedicated citizens who choose to accept the challenges and responsibilities of making sure the public enjoys a safe community to live in. We encourage all those who reside in small, rural communities to extend your support to these safety services at every opportunity. They are truly the definition of “the unsung hero.”

Steve Castle is the Assistant Fire Chief/EMS Coordinator for the Mechanicsburg Fire Department.

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