Lightning strikes Gilmanton Boy Scout camp

GILMANTON — Twenty-three boy scouts hunkered under a canopy during a thunderstorm suffered a variety of burns last night around 7 p.m. when lightening struck perilously close to the shelter.
All 23 were taken by a Boy Scouts of America Daniel Webster Council bus to the Belmont Fire Station, where emergency workers from communities as far away as Franklin evaluated them and sent them to various area hospitals.
The boys, who appeared to be between the ages of 14 and 17, were all able to walk out of the van on their own power. One boy needed the assistance of another scout to get to one of the waiting ambulances.
It was not known as of press time where the boys are from.
According to Belmont Fire Chief Dave Parenti, the boys and their counselors were at Camp Bell, which is part of Griswold Scout Reservation north of Gilmanton Iron Works. He said they were about 1/4 of a mile into the woods when the storm stuck.
Camp Bell is located on the west shore of Manning Lake. It is to the west of the more widely known Hidden Valley Scount Camp, which is located between Lake Eileen and Sunset Lake. Both camps are on the Griswold Reservation and both are owned and operated by the Daniel Webster Council of Boy Scouts of America.
Parenti said some of the boys were knocked off their feet by the force of the strike.
Councilors said the group waited out the storm and all were able to walk to an area where they were loaded into the bus.
Parenti said the call originated when councilors called Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia and told them they were bringing 23 boys who had been struck by lightening to the emergency room.
Rather than have all of them at one emergency room at the same time, officials set up a triage area at the Belmont Fire Station — which was central to the Lakes Region and closest to where the lightening struck — where all the boys were evaluated according to their condition and sent to areas hospitals including LRGH, Franklin Regional Hospital, Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth and Concord Hospital.
He said because all the boys are minors and all could have possibly suffered harm from the lightening, all will be taken to one of the state's hospitals and evaluated.
While councilors called parents to tell them where their children were, ambulances lined up around the fire station. Belmont Police coordinated traffic and directed those parents who did come to the fire station to the hospital where their children were taken.
Six of the boys, said Parenti, suffered burns across their chests and were the first to be transported. He explained that the chances of cardiac arrest increases with electrical shocks to the chest.
Many of the other boys, as well as three councilors, suffered a variety of burns, mostly to their feet and extremities. One counselor appeared to have a severe burn to his right leg but he declined treatment until all of the boys were set.
For what seemed like it would be a chaotic night, things ran very smoothly at the fire station. The scouts, their councilors, and emergency personnel were all calm. Each boy got of the bus with the appropriate identifying paperwork that would be given to the receiving hospital. Ambulances lined up around the building to collect their patients — two per ambulance — while EMTs and paramedics evaluated them as they got off the bus. An evaluation center was established in the training room at the station.
Gilmanton Fire Chief Paul Hempel III helped coordinate activity inside the station while Parenti and Sanbornton Fire Chief Paul Dexter worked the command post.
Belmont Selectman Jon Pike, who was at the fire station with Parenti, said he was really proud of the Belmont Police and Fire Department and the response and assistance from the surrounding communities.
"These guys and girls really have it together," Pike said.
The status of the boys at press time was unavailable.