Grace Thomas, Connor Draa, Justen Zimmerman and Jacob Katansky said ?Lifeguard boot camp? gave them the skills and discipline to help Jeremy Veith when no ambulance or firefighter EMTs arrived for 47 minutes. It took over an hour to get him heading for the hospital in Bakersfield. Below: Pine Mountain residents A.J. and Frances Durocher have long campaigned for firefighter paramedics to be stationed at the Pine Mountain fire station. On June 6 however, in an exceptional moment, all the firefighters had been ordered to the Grapevine to combat a wildfire that threatened Digier Canyon. No firefighters (currently EMTs-not paramedics) were available to help Jeremy Veith.
By Patric Hedlund
PINE MOUNTAIN—You might call it the perfect storm for emergency medical response on Friday, June 6 when 911 was called at 6:23 p.m. An off-duty lifeguard went into convulsions at the Pine Mountain Club swimming pool. It would be 7:27 p.m. before transport to the hospital began.
The snapshot that emerges from reconstructing the events of that evening illustrate the concerns heard loud and often in the Mountain Communities about inadequate emergency medical services here.
All firefighters on the mountain (from Frazier Park, Pine Mountain and Lebec) had been pulled to the Grapevine by 10:30 a.m. on June 6 to battle a blaze that consumed 500 acres and threatened 50 homes. A ‘move up’ crew from Bakersfield was dispatched to staff a reserve engine kept at Pinon Pines (known as Engine 457). Hall ambulance was at its Frazier Park station.
Then, at 6:17 p.m., nearly simultaneously, there were two calls for medical emergencies from Montana Trail in Frazier Park and Lakeview Drive in Lake of the Woods, one for chest pain and one for difficulty breathing. At 6:23 p.m. the call came in about Jeremy Veith having seizures at the Pine Mountain Club pool.
“Because of the nature of the reports and limited resources, Hall handled the Montana Trail [call] and Engine 457 responded to the Lakeview Drive,” Kern County Fire Department spokesperson Jim Eckroth explained in an interview Monday, June 9. A second Hall unit was dispatched from the Taft area. “Once the second Hall unit arrived at Lakeview Drive, Engine 457 responded to Pine Mountain Club,” Eckroth said.
Engine 457 and a Hall medevac helicopter wouldn’t arrive until 44 minutes after the lifeguards helping Jeremy Veith first called for help. The helicopter didn’t depart to take him to the hospital until 7:27 p.m., an hour and four minutes after 911 was first called by Pine Mountain Club Security Officer Patrice Stimpson.
She had been contacted, according to protocol, by the lifeguards at the pool, who had made an assessment that Jeremy Veith was in trouble and needed emergency medical assistance.
Rolling back the events of the evening, PMC Lifeguard Jacob Katansky, 17, recalls that Veith—his friend and fellow lifeguard—was swimming laps. Katansky, Connor Draa, 17 and Grace Thomas, 15 were all on duty at the pool.
The whole group, according to their supervisor Justen Zimmerman, had recently attended “Lifeguard boot camp” conducted by the Red Cross in preparation for their summer jobs.
“We all took the training,” Zimmerman recalls, “they were really hard on us, making us do push-ups and drills and swimming laps…but now we can see that it paid off. The guards followed the procedures they learned in their training perfectly.”
In an interview, Monday, June 9 Katansky said he didn’t really see anything specific happen in the pool. He said it was possible that Veith was swimming backwards and hit his head on the side at the deep end of the pool. “He was walking up the stairs [to exit the pool] with both hands, looking kind of tired and went into the restroom for a long time. I went to check and knocked on the door. I heard banging. He opened the door from the ground. He was still talking pretty well. He said he slipped and hit his head again in the restroom on the right side of his face,” Katansky remembers.
“He was talking to me and on the ground. I tried to stand him up but he couldn’t stand, then I sat him up and he started having seizures,” Katansky said.
In the meantime, Grace Thomas told Connor Draa to cover her zone of the pool. She made an assessment of Veith and notified Stimpson in the Security office to call for emergency medical aid.
Katansky stayed with Veith. “I put a towel under his head. He would have a seizure and then stop and talk for awhile. It went on for awhile. It took over 30 minutes—almost an hour—for the fire department to come,” Katansky said.
In the meantime, a parent at the pool, Cameron Acosta, became alarmed and called Pine Mountain neighbors Sharon and John Powell, both registered nurses. Sharon is certified as a nurse practitioner.
“I was in my pajamas when we got the call,” Powell said Tuesday, June 10. “I got dressed and we got right down there.” They assisted in getting Veith onto the PMC pool’s backboard.
The Kern County Fire Engine 457 arrived at the pool about the same time as the helicopter was arriving at the Pine Mountain heliport. That was at 7:07 p.m. according to Tracy Burnside, who handles Hall’s helicopter dispatch records. Typically, they rely on a Hall Ambulance for transport of a patient to the helipad. But there was no ambulance in sight.
County policy also prohibits KCFD from using its vehicles to transport patients. They too defer to the Hall ambulance. Jerry Fossler, interim Pine Mountain Club manager, was waiting at the helipad in his vehicle to take the Hall helicopter medical staff to the patient at poolside if needed. Since the firefighters were on scene, It was decided that it would be best to bring the young man to the heliport, Fosser recalls.
After the firefighters helped stabilize and secure Veith to the backboard, the task of moving the youth from the pool to the craft and its paramedics was up to Pine Mountain Security. Firefighters helped PMC personnel put Veith on a PMC patrol truck, then KCFD stayed with him as the PMC truck shuttled him about 1/8 mile across the parking lot, over Mil Potrero Highway and to the Hall helicopter paramedics who immediately went to work stabilizing Veith’s breathing and administering anti-convulsent drugs with an IV.
By the time the Hall ambulance arrived, there was nothing to do.
Veith has remained at Kern Medical Center under constant observation. He is said to be in ‘fair’ condition, but still having intermittent seizures. It is uncertain whether the onset may have occurred while he was in the pool. His friends are visiting him and the community is taking hard lessons from the event.
Ironically, this event took place one day after “straw poll’ ballots mailed by Supervisor Ray Watson were to be returned to the county to be counted. On April 1 Watson turned down a fire department offer to use state money to provide Pine Mountain with a year-long firefighter paramedic pilot program.
In the June 5 poll, Pine Mountain residents were asked to vote whether they want to pay special new taxes to obtain better emergency medical care. Nurse practitioner Sharon Powell said “I voted no…We already pay our county property taxes. Why should we have to pay more to just have the same services everyone else in the county gets? I don’t think it is fair.”
Justen Zimmerman is proud of how her crew responded. “All three guards acted exactly as they’d been trained by Red Cross just the month prior. These are kids and these are their first jobs. It is reassuring to know that we have a functioning professional life saving response at our pool.” That said, she went on: “I may have more opinion than information, but I can tell you that 45 minutes is too long for a first responder to have to sustain an injured person.”
Fossler has given the event a lot of thought: “This was probably close to a worst-case scenario. I want to see what can be done to keep at least one firefighter EMT here at all times. Preferably we’d have an ALS paramedic. I don’t know what the answer is. I’ve had suggestions from people, ‘Let’s entice a doctor to come up here,’ some say. We need all of it in my personal opinion…we need to be creative and to see how to best provide those services.”
UPDATED June 18, 2008/ 8:31 p.m.
This is part of the June 13, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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