Say Yellow to the ESD Volunteers Who Save Your Butts

By Ben Thompson, ESD Support Chief

Walking around Black Rock City, I’m sure you’ve noticed the people in the bright yellow shirts working in the aid stations, driving some facsimile of a fire truck or a UTV. Those folks are the volunteers working for BRC Emergency Services Department (ESD).

At this year’s event there will be over 600 volunteers in yellow who gift their skills and talents to the citizens of Black Rock City. Coming from around the world, they bring a vast skill set that’s truly extraordinary.

Working within the four branches of ESD, these folks will be there to aid and assist in both large and small incidents.

Meet the Medics

Medical is by far the largest and most visible branch of the Department.

The volunteers at the six medical stations work as the first line of care for those in need. These stations are staged strategically around the city, one each at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock keyholes, one between the Man and the Temple that we call 12 o’clock, and one at 5:15 on the Esplanade.

There are also stations at the 4:30 and 7:30 plazas, and we deploy six Quick Response Vehicles (QRV) for the field response crews at these stations.

Station photo

All stations are operated 24/7 for the duration of the event, and each station has the ability to treat and refer patients to our on-site hospital, Rampart, when they require a higher level of care.

The staff at Rampart are hired medical professionals who perform in much the same manner as your typical Emergency Room.

The hospital and ambulances are inspected and licensed by the state of Nevada, and all of our plans, protocols, and procedures for ESD have been reviewed at the highest level of Health and Human Services in Washington DC.

Meeting these regulatory standards is no easy task, The amount of effort that has gone into the planning and documentation for ESD has made us a recognized leader in event safety.


BRCVFD heading outThe other highly visible branch of ESD is the Black Rock City Fire Department. his Department has 130 members and operates two Type 6 engines, and a HazMat/Rescue truck.

The firefighters are able to deal with all the same situations of any similarly sized city fire department.

There are technical experts for hazardous materials, high-angle rescue, and confined space, as well as firefighting. They work with F.A.S.T. (Fire Art Safety Team) on all the large burns and assist with flame and pyro, so you’ll see the BRC Fire Department at all the fun stuff.

The large art burns are highly planned and choreographed to make them as safe as possible. Like Medical, the Fire Department hires a local company that supplies large capacity tactical tenders to be ready in emergency.

The less visible but critically important third branch of ESD is the Crisis Intervention Team, or CIT. These folks are the professional crisis-intervention providers and patient advocates. Their job is a hard one, stepping into serious incidents to provide counsel and support.

CIT volunteers work with regional agencies to get the services and assistance for staff and participants that find themselves in need. CIT is also charged with the responsibility of taking care of found children if they become separated from their parents. The service that these volunteers provide is truly a gift from the heart.

Radio Heads

The nearly invisible branch of ESD is the Communications Team, and while they may not be visible, they are heard everywhere. The Comm Branch is responsible for putting in place one of the largest communication networks in the state.

The Comm Team provides Computer Aided Dispatch, emergency call management, event staff paging, and 110 radio channels for emergency and non-emergency radio traffic plus a portion of the IT network. In a city the size of Black Rock, the radio infrastructure needed to support itis tremendous.

ESD dispatchers and managers staff the dispatch consoles 24/7 for the duration of the event so there is uninterrupted coverage. The comm center is located out at the law enforcement compound, and shares a building with the Law Enforcement dispatchers so emergency service can be integrated and delivered rapidly.

Making it All Work

There are others who are essential to the mission of ESD: these folks in the yellow shirts are the Planning and Logistics Teams. The Planning staff’s primary role is to check in the 700+ ESD volunteers and make sure we have the correct documents needed for compliance with Nevada statutes for health care providers.

Photo by Damon LaRose
More yellow shirts ready to save butts (Photo by Damon LaRose)

The other critical role for the Planning Team is to collect, document, collate, and report the event operations data required by the permit stipulations and state agencies. Like everything else, the amount of information that needs to be collected, compiled and reported daily has grown exponentially over the last few years.

The ESD Logistics Team’s first responsibility is to get the Medical Stations set up — no small job! Once the clinics and stations are up and running, the Logistics Team supports the stations with materiel deliveries, as well as staffing the shuttles that deliver injured participants and fellow staff around the city.

When the Great Plague Hits

Beyond the practical day-to-day safety operations, there is the potential for major problems like fires, pandemics, mass casualty, shooters, terrorists, WMD’s — all the same worries that plague us in the default world.

We’d like to think it couldn’t happen in BRC, but the fact that it could means we need to be prepared to deal with it in an effective way.

The Leadership of ESD works with our partners in the Bureau of Land Management, Pershing County, Washoe County and other agencies to create plans to address all of these types of incidents.

The heads of all the departments in Burning Man work together with these partners to build the safety net that allows the artists and participants to create and express themselves.

As the event has grown, so has our need to manage risk and put in place resources capable of responding to all manner of incidents. It’s only due to the incredible commitment of our volunteers that we are able to take on this enormous task.

Over the last few years, the Emergency Services Department has been challenged to not just meet but exceed the standards set for public safety. It’s been really hard work, but a lot of very talented people have met the challenge head on.

Playa Hoof

With the support of the Burning Man organization, ESD has either put into place or acquired the necessary policies and tools to meet the letter of the law. Through this process we have gained greater respect from regulators for what and how we do what we do.

All the credit for that goes to those folks in the bright yellow shirts.

(All photos courtesy of ESD)

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