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Intoxicated concertgoers at Mullins Center in Amherst keep EMTs hopping; 31 treated, one seriously hurt

They came to hear one of the top disc jockeys in the world spin his electronic dance music at the Mullins Center on the night of Feb. 21, but more than 30 people experienced a different kind of spinning of their own making.

Ambulance personnel spent several hours driving 19 people to the hospital during a concert by Dutch musician Tiesto. Nearly all of the people were transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for alcohol or drug-related intoxication. Twelve others were treated by medical personnel at the scene.

“It was definitely a busy night,” Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said.

One man, who was not identified, was taken to Baystate Medical Center’s trauma center in Springfield after jumping off a balcony and suffering a fractured skull and fractured jaw, University of Massachusetts spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons said. Nelson said the Amherst Fire Department is not releasing the man’s name.

None of the people transported were UMass students, though two of four people placed in protective custody by UMass police were students, Fitzgibbons said.

As occurs at similar concerts, a triage center was set up inside the building where ambulance crews from the Amherst Fire Department and EMTs from UMass’ Environment, Health and Safety unit assist those in physical distress. Nelson said 31 people were treated at the triage area, where 12 individuals were able to “sit and come down off whatever they were on.” The other 19 people were taken to the hospital.

The transports came so frequently at one point that the Amherst Fire Department had to call in ambulances from neighboring Belchertown, Northampton and South Hadley District 1 to assist its five ambulances and another Westfield ambulance that is contracted to provide mutual aid during busy concerts.

Resources question

“We were juggling at one point,” said Nelson. “There is a concern at times like these. Are we going to have enough resources for that next incident?”

Nelson said his department works with management at the Mullins Center in advance of concerts to determine what kind of crowd to expect and what type of coverage is needed.

In this case, nearly 6,000 people attended the Tiesto concert, which drew mostly young people between the ages of 16 and 22, Nelson said. He speculated the crowd was slightly younger than usual because it was winter break at area high schools.

Campus police made one arrest during the night. Ryan Michael Vaneck, 19, a Bentley University student from Bellmore, N.Y., was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, assault and battery of a police officer and possession of a class D substance, marijuana.

Thursday’s incidents were not unprecedented for a Mullins Center concert. Over the years, emergency personnel have responded to and treated dozens of intoxicated young people.

Last April, for example, paramedics treated 25 patients at the scene and transported an additional 15 people to the hospital for drug and alcohol related emergencies during a concert by Swedish DJ and remixer Avicii.

That same month the year before, 14 patients were treated outside the Fantazia 360 concert at the Mullins Center, with two patients transported by a mutual aid ambulance from the site.

Two years ago, a two-night weekend concert at the Mullins Center resulted in 29 people being transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

These incidents led Nelson and Mullins managers to devise a plan that stations an ambulance and two department EMTs at the scene during certain concerts.

“We don’t need to be at the Mullins Center for all shows, but we know there are certain shows that will generate EMS activity,” he said.

Doing assessments

These paramedics run the triage center and work with university EMTs, who typically do initial assessments throughout the venue and bring people to the triage center for help.

Having paramedics on site enables the department to keep the number of ambulance trips down by handling patients whose conditions don’t require hospital treatment. In the past, an ambulance had to respond to all calls, Nelson said.

“In this case, an ambulance is dispatched only when we need one,” he said.

Each transport of a patient costs about $1,000, with a portion of this expense offset by a patient’s insurance. In the last completed budget year for which statistics are available, fiscal year 2012, the town collected $2.06 million in ambulance receipts for 4,322 calls, for an average of $476 per call.

Town Manager John Musante’s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal includes $2.14 million in estimated ambulance receipts.

Amherst also receives close to $350,000 from UMass as part of a strategic partnership that accounts for the town’s fire and ambulance responses to campus.

The department anticipates it will need to have a presence again April 20 when Rusko, an electronic dance music artist, is scheduled to play. Rusko last played at the Mullins Center a year ago, and several people were transported to the hospital during that concert.

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