09 Jul Norfolk -Special Events Planning for Friday the 13th
Norfolk County is a large, mainly rural, area of 1600 sq. km. on the north shore of Lake Erie. With a current population of approximately 62,000 residents, Norfolk County continues to attract new residents and visitors to its pristine beaches, wineries, breweries, restaurants and tourist activities. Norfolk County EMS provides paramedic services to the entire County, with six ambulance bases, eleven ambulances, three ERV’s, an ESU and a RAV (rapid access vehicle). In addition, robust community paramedicine program, public access defibrillation program and public relations/awareness programs provide additional service to the community.
Due to its picturesque appeal, support services and great location, Norfolk County continues to host multiple special events every year to celebrate the arts, culture, local service groups and charities. The most notable of these special events is Friday the 13th in Port Dover. Falling on each and every Friday the 13th, this event occurs, regardless of weather or time of year. This celebration began Friday, November 13, 1981 when a group of motorcycle enthusiasts and friends decided to meet in Port Dover. They enjoyed the outing and decided to meet every Friday the 13th back in Port Dover from then on. The event has expanded every year, with motorcyclists and friends travelling to Port Dover for entertainment, vendors, food and, most importantly, to share their passion with bikers from across Ontario and beyond. Service clubs, including the Port Dover Kinsmen, volunteers, OPP and staff from multiple Norfolk County departments plan for months and come together to ensure the event runs smoothly and safely for all.
On a summer month Friday the 13th celebration, the population of the town of Port Dover, with about 6000 permanent residents, explodes to 100,000 to 180,000 people. In addition, all main roads are closed to traffic other than motorcycles, more than 60,000 motorcycles line the streets, and pedestrians pack the downtown area. All of this creates significant ramifications for emergency services. Norfolk County EMS, traditionally serving 60,000 people spread across the County has to address sometimes three times that population in a confined and congested area.
All main roads in the town of Port Dover are closed to vehicles other than motorcycles. The motorcycles that take part in the event park along and across all of these closed roads. Pedestrians are everywhere. Getting an actual ambulance into this area is nearly impossible. In response to this, Norfolk County EMS staffs a first aid tent, multiple RAV/Mikey response units, ERV’s and ambulances at outlying areas to respond to emergencies as required. The first aid tent, centrally located in the downtown core on Main Street, is staffed with Paramedics and Paramedic Students to serve anyone needing first aid or medical care. Special Event Medical Directives are in place for all Paramedics at the event.
The RAV (rapid access vehicle – a modified 4×4 John Deere Gator created by Norfolk County EMS and Fleet staff) and Mikey Response Units, borrowed from Toronto EMS are staffed to patrol the downtown area. These response units all have stretchers and first response medical equipment to respond to emergencies called in through CACC. They assess and treat patients, then transport them to waiting ambulances either at Port Dover Ambulance base or at the outlying streets for transportation to hospital.
ERV’s and ambulances are stationed at Port Dover Ambulance base, the Community Centre and on the outskirts of town to ensure access to patients and safe egress to hospital.
Six to eight months before each Friday the 13th, meetings with all stakeholders start to initiate planning and organization of the event. The specific Friday the 13th, depending on date and weather expectations, is deemed an “event” or “non-event”, and planning surrounds the inherent expectations of attendees. Stakeholders at these meetings include staff from Norfolk County Community Services Department, Roads, Public Works, Business Services, Risk and Legal, Purchasing, Licensing and Emergency Services (Fire, EMS) divisions, Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, Community Service Organizations (Kinsmen) and OPP. Meetings increase in scale and frequency closer to the upcoming date of the event.
The key to a successful event is the collaboration and cooperation of many agencies and departments. In general, the OPP take a lead role in the planning and implementation of the emergency services for the event and safety of the population. With a dedicated operations center during the event, hourly sit-rep meetings with emergency services and a multi-faceted approach to community safety, all emergencies are coordinated and tracked to provide exemplary response to any call. One of the members of the Leadership Team of NCEMS attends every sit-rep meeting throughout the event, in order to report on the status of EMS response, staffing and logistics, as well as receive update from our allied agencies with concerns, incidents and responses during the event.
Norfolk County EMS attends all stakeholder meetings in order to plan emergency medical response during each and every Friday the 13th event. One Commander is primarily tasked with managing the event, with other management staff supporting both event and community responses. With many motorcyclists and visitors coming in the night before and staying until the morning after, upstaffing of emergency vehicles encompasses more than 48 hours of additional EMS coverage. On the day of the event itself, the usual staffing patterns and deployment plans of NCEMS change to stagger start times, provide additional coverage during peak population times and allow for access/traffic issues for staff themselves. Every spare ambulance in the County is in Port Dover, staffing as a response unit, or being used for equipment and supplies for the RAV/Mikey crews, the first aid tent, or as re-stocking units. Additional equipment and supplies are located at Port Dover Ambulance base for the event as well. Meals and refreshments are stocked at the base as well, and are available on the other side of town at the Community Centre, to ensure all paramedics have access to food, drinks, shelter and facilities as needed throughout the day. Many of our neighboring EMS services have taken the initiative to upstaff during the event as well, due mainly to the influx of vehicles on traffic pathways through their respective Counties.
Challenges and Successes
While Norfolk County EMS continues to strategically assess and plan for the Friday the 13th each time it occurs, the event creates significant stressors to our system and responses. Communication, both with our CACC and our allied agencies, was an ongoing struggle over the past five years, due to our multiple response modalities both with and without admin/portable radios. We have significantly improved this with the installation of a dedicated repeater from CACC, installed in a downtown County museum, and the usage of a two-way radio system for County staff, EMS, Fire and OPP during the event. This allows specific communication, as needed, back and forth between different divisions within the County for specific reasons (i.e. by law enforcement, road or parking issues, logistical inquiries).
Staffing has ceased to be a definitive issue for Norfolk County EMS, as we have found that Paramedics enjoy the different atmosphere and response challenges that Friday the 13th brings to our service. Many Paramedics choose to opt out of their regularly scheduled shifts to join the crews for the event, and most part time employees ensure they are available for the significant shifts available.
We have been incredibly lucky in the past that the motorcyclists and visitors have responsibly and respectfully attended the event in Port Dover. Many medical issues we encounter stem from environmental issues, including heat emergencies or other inclement weather. With the extensive amount of vehicular traffic in and around the town, there have been significant collisions and traumatic incidents in the past; however, the frequency of these serious calls has been limited.
Overall, with extensive planning and strategic deployment plans, Norfolk County EMS continues to expertly coordinate community safety and emergency response within Port Dover for all Friday the 13th events. While extensive population surge occurs during these events, risks are mitigated with collaborative partnerships with allied agencies and through the true dedication of the Paramedics of Norfolk County to their community.