First responders evaluate response to Boy Scout lightning strike

BELMONT — Firefighters from several area communities, representatives from four of the five participating hospitals, Lakes Region Mutual Aid dispatchers and a representative from the state participated yesterday in an assessment and review of the actions taken after the lightning strike Monday night that sent 23 Boy Scouts by ambulance to emergency rooms.
The purpose of the assessment, which was led by Belmont Fire Chief David Parenti whose department coordinated the "mass-casualty incident," reviewed time lines, communications between all involved agencies, and how to improve on handling future events, should there be any.
On Monday night, 23 Boy Scouts participating in leadership training were huddled under a tarp when lightening struck about 25-feet away from their remote hilltop and forested location at Camp Bell in Gilmanton. Their injuries varied from burns on various parts of their bodies to anxiety. Most of the injured were treated and released that night and many returned to finish leadership camp.
The decision to set up a remote medical triage site in Belmont was made by Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia and chosen for it's central location. LRGH staff was told by the person who called them that all of the boys were walking and talking.
The time line indicates the strike occurred between 5:30 and 5:45 p.m. and the Belmont Fire Department was notified at 8:45 p.m. by the Lakes Region General Hospital who were called by Boy Scout leaders to tell them they were on the way to the hospital with 23 patients.
Had they not called ahead, LRGH representatives said they would have handled the 23 by using their own internal protocols.
It was only when the first boys arrived in Belmont that emergency personnel learned the potential seriousness of the injuries. The boys arrived at the Belmont Fire Station by bus and in two pickups that held the six boys that counselors on the scene determined were the most seriously injured.
Those six were examined by the evaluation team. Two were sent to Lakes Region General Hospital via Laconia's ambulance, two were sent to Franklin Regional Hospital via Tilton-Northfield Fire District ambulance and and two were sent to Concord Hospital by Gilmanton's Ambulance.
Within 41 minutes all 23 boys and one counselor had been evaluated, loaded onto ambulances and were en route to LRGH by Laconia and Gilford ambulances, to Franklin by Tilton-Northfield ambulances, to Concord by Belmont, Tilton-Northfield and Gilmanton Ambulances and to Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro by an Alton Ambulance. Two boys were also taken to Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth by a Franklin ambulance later in the evening.
"Forty-one minutes total," said Parenti to the nearly 30 people who participated yesterday. "Not bad."
All agreed the onslaught of media attention the incident generated was unanticipated and could have been better coordinated.
The group collectively agreed that Parenti should have either designated himself a public information officer and given over the ground command to either one of the other chiefs who came to assist or one of his command staff.
He said he was getting calls from as far away as Baltimore and from national media including CNN and ABC and didn't anticipate them. Parenti noted that information about the lightening strike was on Twitter and Facebook within seconds of the original call to his department.
He also said he could have made better use of Internet communication technology.
Parenti said Gov. Maggie Hassan, the N.H. Department of Homeland Security and a state disaster mitigation team were also alerted.
Hospital representatives said they, too, were getting calls from media and family and friends of not only the boys who were injured but from relatives of all the nearly 200 boys who were participating in activities either at Camp Bell or the nearby Hidden Valley Boy Scout Camp.
He said there is only one land line to the camp and cell phone coverage is spotty so direct communication for parents and media to the Boy Scouts was next to impossible.
They said they all would have liked having one designated person and phone number to refer all of the phone calls from frantic relatives and media.
Hospital representatives said the on-site triage team should have used the color coded medical tags for the individual patients. The tags inform hospital emergency room personnel about the level of injury.