Bristol prepped for 'mass casualty'


Going into the Fourth of July celebration, police, fire and rescue personnel have to consider the "what ifs" as up to 200,000 visitors descend on a town equipped to handle the needs of its 23,000 residents.

Borrowing a line often used by Chief of Police Josue Canario, Fire Chief Robert Martin summed it up.

“You hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said.

Even before the chief marshal cuts the ribbon to begin the 229th Bristol Fourth of July parade, Chief Martin, according to public safety protocol, declares the town to be in a state of mass casualty “right out of the gate.”

But in the terms of public safety, mass casualty doesn’t refer to an incident, such as the bombing that occurred at the Boston Marathon. It refers to the town’s public safety resources being outnumbered by the potential number of calls that could come in at any one time.

“Bristol is declared a mass casualty because of the influx of people,” Chief Martin said.

At 7 a.m., when that declaration is made by Chief Martin, surrounding towns and the Rhode Island Department of Health are also on alert in the event that an incident or an unusually large number of calls come in.

In such an event, Portsmouth becomes radio control for Bristol and would coordinate mutual aid from outlying communities, dispatching rescues five at a time into Bristol, as needed.

Under the mass casualty protocol, rescue personnel are also prepared to administer medical assistance along the parade route.

Four medical stations are strategically placed along the route, with others on bicycles monitoring the crowd. At fire headquarters on Annawamscutt Avenue, a Mobile Army Surgical Headquarters (MASH) is set up by the state’s Disaster Management Assistance team. There, doctors and nurses will tend to more serious needs than bumps and bruises.

While the majority of lesser injuries — falls, cuts, scrapes — will be treated on site along the parade route, victims with high priority medical needs such as heart attack, stroke, pregnancy and others will be taken by ambulance to the hospital.

In recent years, Chief Martin said that his department treated “60 patients within the three hour period” during a parade.

“The first call was ‘I’m pregnant and having a baby at Hope and Chestnut Street,” he said.

In the event that the two main arteries, Hope Street and Metacom Avenue, are impassible, there is a contingency plan to utilize the Narragansett Bay Marine Task Force for emergencies.

In an effort to make the Fourth of July fun and safe for all, the Bristol police and fire departments will be out in force to assist and prevent any unfortunate events from occurring.

The fire department will have more than 100 of its personnel on duty. Additional manpower from local, state and federal agencies will be sworn in by Town Clerk Louis Cirillo on Friday morning to join the 100-member police force for the day. They will be dispersed to obvious — and not so obvious — locations throughout town.

“It’s a challenging day. Our intensity is higher the past couple of years,” Chief Martin said. “We always start out hoping for nothing. We are prepared for everything.”

One protocol to note, said Chief Martin, is that if ever there was an incident or crisis along the parade route, the marchers, floats and marching bands, as well as any pedestrians will be ushered immediately to the right-hand side of the road.

“Stop playing your horn and move over,” Chief Martin said. “The left side is mine.”


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.