Don’t Be That Burner — Be Prepared With Your Own First Aid Supplies

In 2016, Burning Man’s Emergency Services Department (ESD) saw nearly 5,000 patients — close to 7% of the event population — for all kinds of ailments. Were there so many sick and injured people, you ask? Is Black Rock City an ominously dangerous place that so many would need to seek medical attention?

The answer to that big burning question is “No.” Yeah, a few people do get quite sick or seriously injured at Burning Man, and that bites. But in truth, it’s not very common. The bulk of the people we encountered at our medical stations in 2016 — in fact more than 80% of those who came seeking assistance — had illnesses and injuries easily treated at home in their own camps.

We are honored to provide care at no cost to our amazing citizens of Black Rock City. But to be honest, when we hand out band-aids for paper cuts, moleskin for blisters, or sunscreen, Tylenol, tampons, condoms, and on and on… we feel a bit like we’re betraying the event ethos. Rampart, the advanced-level care facility on playa on the Esplanade at 5:15, has voiced the same concern. Dozens of people with asthma left their inhalers at home. How does that happen?? People came in looking for a prophylactic Tetanus shot, just in case they got cut. We get asked to provide antifungal cream for athlete’s foot. That nasty little fungus does not reveal itself in the eight days of Burning Man; it takes months for it to become the itching voracious beast that it is.

The fourth Burning Man principle is Radical Self-reliance, and we’ve seen a sharp uptick in the numbers of people coming to Black Rock City unprepared to be Radically Self-reliant when it comes to self care. Are people not reading the Survival Guide? Can they not be bothered with the Health and Safety edition of the Jackrabbit Speaks? Or is there a “Woo-Hoo! Free health care at Burning Man!” mentality? We aren’t really sure. But we know we need to stand in support of our fourth principle of Radical Self-reliance and let everyone know that it’s time to show up to the playa prepared to take care of themselves when possible. And the most awesome Burners bring along a few extra supplies just in case their neighbors forgot or ran out of something.

Here, Let Us Tell You How to Be Self-Reliant

So here, my lovely Burners, are our pro tips. Wickedly wise and hip ways to show you have your Burning Man shit together and you have chosen to resist sparklepony-dom and are being a self-reliant badass.

Bring a first aid kit suitable in size to support your camp. If it’s just you braving the playa in your REI two-person tent, here’s our list of goodies we recommend bringing. If your camp is 25, 50, 100 or more people strong, you can create your own by loading things from our list into a duffle or find kits like this online, although those kits need supplementing to be playa-worthy.

Supplements include:

  • Self-adhesive bandages Also known by many as Coban, this stuff sticks to itself. And when taken off and reapplied, it sticks to itself again. It’s really awesome. Band-aids and adhesive tape are useless crap at Burning Man; the dust disables the glue. Get a roll of Coban. It comes in many amazing colors, and if you buy the vet tape, it’s the same stuff but less expensive.
  • Vinegar
    This beautiful liquid gold neutralizes the alkalinity of the playa dust. A vinegar bathing of feet, followed by a water rinse, lotioning, and a pair of clean socks, is a moment of supreme playa happiness.
  • Tampons
    The stress of late nights, heat, dry, noise, travel will ignite the hormones in the most predictable way. I’ve never met a playa veteran woman who hasn’t at some point been visited by an unexpected moon flow. Bring tampons. Bring them for your friends. You’re a guy? Bring them anyway and be the hero in your camp. Guys who are man enough to carry a box of tampons are revered, just so you know.
  • Neti pot
    It took me a decade of enduring the playa booger before I ventured into the world of Neti pots. The whole idea of putting salt water up one nostril and having it drain out the other was just creepy. Well, I finally manned up, and honestly, it was weird for about two tries. Then it was absolute heaven on earth. Your nose will be so happy with this wise decision. Do it.

And to assist you in being radically self-reliant, here is the first edition of the ESD Playa First Aid Manual. It gives some basics around playa health care and also includes a primer on how to get help if you have an emergency. It’s printable in booklet form so you can do a two-sided printing, fold it in half and stuff it in that first aid kit you put together.

As always, ESD and Rampart are here for you. We have top notch health care pros — paramedics, nurses, docs. We have diagnostic equipment. We can get you on an ambulance and to Reno toot sweet if you need it (although that part isn’t free so try to avoid it).

Be safe. Be prepared. Embrace self-reliance. See you in a little while.

About the author: Kate Gonnella

Kate Gonnella

Burning since 2001, Kate Gonnella acted as the Medical Chief for Emergency Services for a dozen years before becoming the Chief of Emergency Operations in Black Rock City.

25 Comments on “Don’t Be That Burner — Be Prepared With Your Own First Aid Supplies

  • Playa Nai`a says:

    Mahalo, goddess! Bringing burgins = need.

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  • roissy says:

    Maybe the Gate needs to check for a First Aid Kit, like how they used to ask about water in the past…

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  • Susan says:

    I’m paying like a million dollars to get there and I have to buy bandaids, too? Screw that.

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    • Kate says:

      Susan, ESD will always be there with a bandaid for you! But when that blister erupts after the long ride to some art near the trash fence, or you get a boo boo in camp while building, you’ll be happy you brought along some simple self-help supplies. The long hoof all the way to medical for a bandaid will be an annoying disruption in your fabulous day. Your call though!

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    • Michele LeBelle says:

      Susan, if you’re paying so much to get to BRC, spend a little more to be prepared. Even if you aren’t prepared, there are citizens like me who will help and if needed call for help. Be self reliant. Don’t be a negative outcome or negative statistic. Come prepared and leave no mess.

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    • Savonnette says:

      Seems to me Susan was being sarcastic, but what do I know? One of Burning Man’s rules should be to have a sense of humor. Thanks for the laugh, Susan, and MOOP on your face too!

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  • Hermana says:

    May I ask who is providing advanced care and transportation services at Rampart? I heard crowdrx is out? Just curious!

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  • Kate says:

    Hi Hermana,
    Same providers of care (minus a couple of people) but with a new name, “National Event Services”.

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  • Joe says:

    CrowdRx had some kind of internal dispute and changed their name. Hopefully it wont be long till the next company! These guys are as much fun as the White Ocean Camp with zero burner ethos!

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  • Anon-medic says:

    This basically makes me want to eat my own vomit for breakfast and lunch and dinner.

    Sure, fine, yes. Be radically self reliant. Figure out your own shit, and your own boo boos. Don’t assume bandaids. Bring your choice of “sanitary” supplies, bring extras to gift. Yes.

    But pretty please, cut out all the gendered shit. And cut out all the ‘fuck off burner, we only wanna be badass EMS and fix the pumper bleeds and do CPR and life flight you out’. Fuck that. If you’re there to provide a gift to the community, awesome. We’re glad. And enjoy your staff credentials, meal pogs, etc. I appreciate our presence. Maybe I even work with you.

    If you only want to work Rampart and do ALS and x-rays and arterial pumper bleeds and full thickness burns, and be allowed to speed on playa, and recommend transport to Reno, sure, that’s fine. If you want to tell folks no, we have no tweezers you can use, we’re “like school nurses”, okay.

    But please cut the condescending shit. Give real, serious suggestions for what everyone should bring, and carry around with then. Prep pads (BZK, alcohol, povidone/iodine). Baby wipes, double bagged. Yes, vinegar in a foot bath every day to treat and prevent playafoot. Yes, vet wrap/Coban is amazing. So are consent, sleep, water, and self care.

    But this martyrish we don’t want to help you with basic first aid? Fuck that. That is a LOT of what being a medic is.

    Look, folks: treat your own minimal boo boos, bring your own chronic medicines, figure stuff out as best you can, and then if you need to, please ask ESD to help. That’s what we’re actually here for. And if you don’t get welcomed by the first ESD person you talk to, ask to talk with someone else.

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  • xtraslky says:

    I appreciate the post. We run a hangover recovery station “Pharmakon” and have upped our supplies of first aid and OTC meds since so many people drop by clueless and suffering. This is burning man, we are all out there to help each other but dumbass decisions happen. I’ve been the dumbass who had to go to ESD when I cut my foot badly on the way to the burn and regular bandaids and bandages couldn’t stop the bleeding.

    I appreciate the support and the reality check in this post. People need to step up, its not about ESD wanting a higher caliber of injury. Its about being responsible for yourself and all of us being proactive as much as reasonably possible.

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    • Kate says:

      Touché xtraslky! ESD loves helping folks out but we do see so many people come looking for resources that are right on all the “things you need to pack” lists splattered all over the internet. When deciding what NOT to pack, and deciding leaving first aid supplies at home is a good space saver? Uh, no. Bad idea out in the real world and a bad idea in Black Rock City.

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  • Captain says:

    While you’re at it? “Bring” emergency medical insurance. Shit can and does happen. And in the evil event that the serious shit happens to YOU, you don’t want to be footing the 5-6 figure bill for a life-flight.

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  • Silvergirl says:

    Great comments, even if from opposing points of view. I look at it like this: what will likely happen to me, and how can I prevent my burn from sucking as a result? I’m bringing a tent to keep me warm and shelter me. I don’t want blisters and painful feet, so will bring moleskin and Band-Aids. I know I might get a headache, so will bring ibuprofen, or nauseated, so will bring some ginger..etc. Anyone can forget their Rx meds, but putting it in a Jackrabbit front and center might reduce that number by 50%. The whole idea of emergency care is to be there if one needs it, but the less emergency or first aid care you require…the better it is for YOU, the non-patient.
    I was working one of the stations last year and had a very persistent, intoxicated young woman asking me if I could provide electrolytes for her camp of 30 for the week because they forgot them. She was insistent that the provision of such packets would be prophylactic and keep her camp-mates out of Rampart for the week. We had a quasi-collegial discussion how the combination of dried fruits or juices, salts in the food and water would likely tide them over for the week from the electrolye standpoint, and that somehow, man has survived without Gatorade for 10,000 yrs. This kept me smiling for the day. Not sure I ever convinced her, but somehow she never ended up at Rampart. :)

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  • Mimi says:

    What is the ratio of vinegar to water to use for daily feet wash?

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  • Kate says:

    Hi Mimi,
    Here’s a whole blog about playa foot prevention including the 1:4 recommended ratio:
    https://burningman.org/event/preparation/health-safety/playa-foot/

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  • Spankgrrrl says:

    I’m an Aussie and wore things the entire time washed my feet once in vinegar, no problems but my feet are used to exposure … I did however have all over swelling once I got off Playa didn’t really work out what that was all about ?? It’s always good to get wound properly cleaned before you dress it something I now leave to the pros especially with my terrible eyesight… I would include salt in any FA Kit for bathing wounds/ making saline solution Party smart ❤️

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  • anon-medic says:

    Here is an easy, short version:
    – please try to take care of yourself/yourselves. If you can’t, we’re here for you.
    – If you have a paper cut, please try to take care of it yourself, or find someone around who can help. But a pussing gooping wound full of playa dust sucks, so if you need help, we’re here for you.
    – And if you have anything serious at all, or you truly don’t know how to handle it, that’s what we’re here for. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    – We might tell you if, e.g., you have playafoot, to go find some water and some plain white vinegar, and make yourself a footbath. And then some prevention, and aftercare, for your feet.
    – Or we might dress your wound.
    – Or provide acute mental health support.
    – Or help you find advanced care if that’s what is needed.
    – Or something else.
    – Come to playa prepared and informed to help yourself, and others, on playa.
    – But do not be afraid to ask for help. That is why we’re here.

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