Incidents with multiple injuries can present a test for emergency services even in cities, but such situations can be especially challenging in the rural or remote areas found in many parks. Teamwork and advance planning paid off when Great Smoky Mountains National Park experienced three mass casualty incidents during a recent five-day period.
All three situations involved motor vehicle accidents in the park, and resulted in injuries to a total of 20 people. If you found yourself caught in a traffic snarl in the Smokies between July 4 and 8 and wondered what was going on, here's a likely explanation from a park report recapping the incidents:
On Sunday, July 4, Park dispatch received a call reporting a single vehicle rollover accident on Newfound Gap Road on the North Carolina side of the park. The five occupants of a rental car, all from Ohio, sustained a variety of injuries in the crash.
One victim had a compound fracture of the femur and possible head injuries and had to be extricated from the car. Rangers from Oconaluftee and Little River responded along with Cherokee tribal EMS, fire and police personnel. Four of the injured visitors were taken by separate ambulances to hospitals in Sylva and Waynesville. The most seriously injured victim was flown by Mountain Area Medical Airlift to Mission Hospital in Asheville. The highway was closed for over an hour.
On Wednesday July 7, Supervisory park ranger Bobby Fleming and ranger John Sheets came upon a three-vehicle accident on the Newfound Gap Road near Sugarlands Visitor Center that had occurred just seconds before their arrival. A van had been rear-ended, causing injuries to six occupants in the vehicle. All six victims were stuck in the van due to damage to the side door.
Ranger/medic Ellen Paxton, supervisory ranger/medic Joe Pond, FLETC trainee Mike Hinchberger and personnel from Gatlinburg EMS and fire responded. Four of the injured were taken to a medical center in Sevierville for evaluation. The road was closed for about an hour. The operator of one of the vehicles was cited for failure to maintain control.
The following day, July 8, Park Dispatch received an initial report of a van accident involving children on the Spur near Norton Creek. Ranger Fleming and Steve Kloster, acting chief ranger, responded along with rangers Jacob Greene and Ken Davis and ambulance and EMS personnel from Gatlinburg and Sevier County.
They found that nine adults – and no children – had been injured. Two were flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville with serious injuries; two were taken by ambulance to the same center; the remaining five were taken by ambulance to the medical center in Sevierville. All nine were from the Ukraine and were working in Gatlinburg. The road was closed for about two hours. Rangers commented that park maintenance personnel played a key role in assisting with traffic control and cleanup of the scene.
A park spokesman noted that meetings between supervisory staff from the park and local emergency service agencies throughout this past winter and spring have paid off, and helped assure a coordinated and effective multi-agency response to emergency incidents within the park. Kudos to all involved for good planning and execution.