Astroworld medical supplier CEO recalls when the festival routine got out of hand

Alex Pollak felt pretty confident in the moments before Travis Scott took the stage at NRG Park last month.

He had spent hours walking through the site, watching his paramedics and medics, who scoured the pit and overlooked ParaDocs Worldwide’s medical tent.

The crowd was full of energy, he recalls, but nothing seemed particularly unusual compared to other concerts his company had worked on over the years.

But as Scott appeared on stage, just after 9 p.m., what seemed like a routine music festival started to spiral out of control.

Within moments, Pollak and his paramedics found themselves in a rapidly compressing crowd, where festival-goers were so crowded that many couldn’t breathe. For many onlookers, the air grew thick and hot, and soon inaccessible. At the front right of the hall, onlookers became dizzy, then unconscious, collapsing as they were so tight they couldn’t breathe.

By the end of the night, eight people are believed to have died. Two other people – including a 9-year-old boy and a 22-year-old student – are said to be hospitalized, on respiratory assistance. And Astroworld would become one of the worst modern concert tragedies in American history.

Pollak’s account – shared in an exclusive interview with the Houston Chronicle – is the first in which festival medical providers have discussed their experiences with the fatal incident.

Pollak’s account – shared in an exclusive interview with the Houston Chronicle – is the first in which festival medical providers have discussed their experiences with the fatal incident.

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Most concerts or big events have medical problems, Pollak said: spectators suffer from bumps and bruises or fractures from spills or dehydration. He had seen minors drinking in the crowd at Astroworld, which was not surprising as it was a younger crowd. While its employees had worked “hundreds” of festivals over the years, this was their first time at Astroworld.

By the time Scott took the stage on November 5, according to a Houston Fire Department radio traffic log, ParaDocs staff had reported handling around 250 spectators, a tiny fraction of the estimated 50,000 spectators who had attended. presented at the Astroworld festival on Friday to vibrate and revel in its music. Some had lacerations on their hands from the climbing fences; others had bumps and bruises or other minor medical problems.

“You have to understand that patients can either come in for a bandage; come for oral hydration; or, you know, a broken bone or something worse, right? It was very, very normal for the course. … But it didn’t affect the medical field at all before that. Before (incident causing a large number of victims). “

He said his teams had only made two trips to hospitals, “which is nothing.” He had his core New York team and dozens of other doctors and staff, over 70, watching the crowd.

Pollak, an EMT and businessman, created ParaDocs Worldwide in 2011. Over the next decade, it grew rapidly, with hundreds of employees working in six states. Today, the company hosts music festivals, wrestling matches and races and was recently awarded a contract to provide all medical care for the events at the Nassau Coliseum in New York City.

Pollak’s medics scoured the pit – this is where the action usually took place – while three dispatchers were at a nearby command post, seated alongside a dispatcher from the Harris County Emergency Corps (a company of (ambulances hired by concert organizers to provide medical transport during the event) and other concert officials.

They were equipped with “jump bags” with basic survival tools, Pollak said. Other teams were fitted with small carts with additional rescue equipment. And finally, step by step, he had set up the “front yard” area, with more sophisticated rescue equipment.

“Nothing was really different from a normal headliner,” he said. He had driven 19 miles to check on his team and everything seemed to be going well.

In a matter of minutes, that would change.

The first report of a spectator struggling to breathe and suffering from crush injuries came just after 9:15 p.m., minutes after Scott started his set. Soon they were treating a patient in cardiac arrest.

It was not unheard of, Pollak said. He had seen a lot of cardiac arrest patients over the past 20 years. In the crowd, the crowd intensifies. Videos on social media would later show people lying in the crowd, underfoot, still or being surfed out of the crowd.

As medics rushed in and out of the crowds and unconscious and panting patients arrived at the ParaDocs medical tent, one of Pollak’s dispatchers, a New York fire brigade lieutenant, called an incident with mass casualties. . It was “about 9:30 p.m.,” Pollak said.

Suddenly a very sick patient had become two, then three, then almost a dozen.

Pollak was already in the medical tent at that time.

“We heard a third coming,” he recalls. “That’s when I already felt like it was getting a little out of hand, that, ‘OK, we needed the cavalry.'”

“Having so many cardiac arrests at the same time is really overwhelming,” he said. “If someone had told us ahead of time, ‘You’re going to expect 11 cardiac arrests,’ I might have said, ‘There’s no way. “

Minutes later, at a separate command post a mile from the main site, Houston firefighters monitoring radio traffic decided it was time to intervene and dispatched a fleet of ambulances and rescue personnel to NRG Park. It was around 9:38 p.m.

ParaDocs medics and Houston firefighters spent more than an hour rushing through the crowds, finding patients who were not breathing and having no pulses.

By the end of the evening, they had treated 11 patients with cardiac arrest, Pollak said. He remembers feeling proud that his team helped three patients regain their blood pressure and pulse.

“It was my speech,” he recalls. “I said, ‘You gave three people a chance to fight. They went to the hospital with the pulse and blood pressure. I don’t think anyone else would have done such a job.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, many wondered why authorities at the concert did not immediately end the event when the incident claimed large numbers of lives. But Pollak said his responsibility was to provide medical care – not to determine whether the event should be canceled.

“This is not a call that I would like to make or accept,” he said.

Firefighters who responded to the concert complained that they could not speak properly to ParaDocs officials because they did not have a radio to communicate with them.

But that responsibility fell on the concert’s production staff, Pollak said.

“We don’t provide our own radios to an event,” he said. “It always comes from production.

And he defends the material he brought and the performance of his team. A weekend later, he and his team worked at a festival with 270,000 people.

“We also had material for this festival,” he said. “If you ask if we had enough for 11 cardiac arrest patients, we had more than enough.”

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The tragedy at the Astroworld festival


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