Missouri State Fair visitors don’t have to look far if they need medical treatment while on the fairgrounds thanks to the Missouri Disaster Medical Team and the Missouri State Fair Fire Department.
According to DMT Commander Kevin Tweedy, the group sets up a unit similar to a field hospital when responding to disasters, such as the Joplin tornado, and during the 11-day duration of the state fair. DMT operates out of the brown tent next to the Missouri State Fair Fire Department station and it includes six beds, x-ray, ultrasound, and several nurses and physicians ready to treat fairgoers.
Tweedy said they mostly treat heat-related illness, lacerations, injuries from a fall or accident, and people who have a medical episode while on the fairgrounds. Fairgoers or staff members can walk in if they have an issue or MSFFD transports patients as calls come in.
DMT joined the state fair nearly a decade ago. Tweedy said working at the fair serves a dual purpose, helping alleviate the increased call volume for the Pettis County Ambulance District and Bothwell Regional Health Center while providing real-time practice for DMT workers.
“It’s good training, it’s live training for our folks. These folks work in a hospital day to day … it gives them a chance to work in this environment which is more like a disaster environment,” he explained. “Second, it allows us to help out the state fair. Being in rural Missouri, it puts a demand on the local resources here. With us here it allows us to decompress that so the more minor and not as urgent things we can take care of without having to transport them.”
On average, DMT treats more than 100 patients during the 11 days. Six medical workers, who are DMT workers from across the state, staff the tent from about 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Larry Eggen, public information officer for the MSFFD, said as of Thursday night the department had responded to 81 calls and only had to transport nine to Bothwell. The rest were treated by DMT.
Shelly Jarrett, RN, has been with DMT since about 2014. She said she’s always been interested in emergency medicine and works in an emergency department in Rolla.
“I like to be able to help people when they really need the help. It’s part of why I like the emergency room,” she said. “People are in crisis mode and we can do something to actually make a difference for them, and that’s what disaster response is to me.”
This is her fourth year to work with DMT at the fair. She said it allows the staff to practice prioritizing patients based on need and the equipment available in the tent.
Brian Froelke, a regional EMS medical director from the St. Louis area, has worked with DMT at the fair for a number of years. He said he was introduced to the team while a resident through a mentor and he hopes to include more medical institutions to teach them about disaster assistance and to build the medical team.
“We work well with the fire folks, Highway Patrol and the other first responders,” he said. “... It’s great to be in Missouri part of this because we’re one of the best in the country at what we do. We have a lot of capabilities and so we have many folks who act as role models for other states and teams that are building new teams so we’re very blessed in Missouri to have such wonderful resources.”
Next door is the Missouri State Fair Fire Department, which is completely staffed by volunteer firefighters from across the state. PIO Larry Eggen, of the Johnson County Fire Protection District, said an average of 60 work each day, and a total of about 700 will join the ranks at some point over the 11-day event. The department is the only known department to only form for a state fair for 11 days and uses donated equipment and volunteer personnel.
Eggen said they’ve been busy this year, responding to roughly 130 calls as of Thursday night. The firefighters do everything from running ambulance calls on the fairgrounds and transporting patients to DMT, to putting out fires and educating fairgoers about fire safety. Thursday night, they helped evacuate the campgrounds into the Mathewson Exhibition Center during the severe thunderstorm that hit Sedalia. They also are on standby at all major events such as the Governor’s Ham Breakfast, State Fair Arena events and Grandstand concerts.
Eggen has been with MSFFD since 1992 and said some have been volunteering for 30 or 40 years. The department becomes a family, along with its extended family of law enforcement and first responders across the fairgrounds and city.
Eggen agreed with Tweedy, saying their efforts help relieve stress for local first responders, only transporting trauma patients or patients with needs DMT is unable to treat. MSFFD has a mutual aid agreement with PCAD, Sedalia Fire Department and Pettis County Fire Protection District. Last weekend MSFFD called for mutual aid from PCAD but was able to complete the calls before PCAD reached the scene. Previously, MSFFD helped SFD with a structure fire, according to Eggen.
“Having 50,000 people on the fairgrounds is like a big city in Missouri,” Eggen said. “Having us here relieves Pettis County and Sedalia fire because this is a city in a city.”