Pimlico emergency setup under scrutiny Rescue logistics better at Laurel

April 10, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

If you are an exercise rider at a Maryland track and are injured on the job, chances are you will receive medical help quicker at Laurel Race Course rather than at Pimlico.

Apparent slow response by rescue personnel during two recent accidents at the Baltimore track -- the electrocution last week of a horse and injury to its rider during morning training and a serious spill a couple of days later by another exercise rider -- have focused attention on emergency operations.

When Richard Clayton Beck, 36, was shocked at the starting gate in an accident that killed his mount, Fox Brush, nearly an hour passed before Beck was transported to Sinai Hospital -- about a mile from the track.

In that case, according to a report filed by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, it was a city -- not a track -- rescue squad vehicle that first went to a wrong location at the track and was told to drive to another entrance. That doesn't account for all of the delay, but it prolonged the rescue effort another five minutes, the TRPB investigator said.

When exercise rider Kathy Driscoll, 40, fell and was crushed by a horse last weekend, witnesses said that it took as long as 10 minutes for the track ambulance to arrive at the scene.

Conrad Spence, in charge of Pimlico/Laurel rescue operations, said response is quicker at Laurel, mainly for logistical reasons.

Normal response time in such instances, he said, is "two to three minutes, or less, depending on conditions.

"There is a big difference between Laurel and Pimlico and, by that, I mean in the plants themselves. Laurel, for example, is wide-open. You can see everything.

"But not so at Pimlico. Visibility is a problem. We have to rely more on radio communication."

At Pimlico, the two emergency medical technicians on duty either sit in a patrol booth near a gap at the top of the stretch and wait for radio reports about injured riders from an outrider, or they are stationed by the ambulance, which is parked off the track near maintenance equipment.

Communications problems were at the heart of the slow response in the Driscoll accident. Charlie Linton, the outrider on duty that morning, said he promptly radioed the EMTs and told them a rider was down and that he was catching the loose horse that had thrown, and then fallen, on her. Driscoll broke her arm, two vertebrae, was semi-conscious and had bleeding between her brain and skull.

Spence said that if the accident had happened at Laurel, he would have ordered a helicopter to fly her to a shock trauma facility. That was unnecessary at Pimlico, because Sinai has a shock trauma unit.

Linton estimates it took the emergency personnel 10 minutes to arrive, the amount of time a Daily Racing Form clocker, who does want to be identified, said is correct, "although I didn't time it with my watch."

Jonathan Williams, one of the EMTs on duty that day, disputes these claims, and said that Linton radioed only that a horse was loose.

"There's a big difference between a loose horse and a rider being down," Williams said. "We stood by the ambulance for three or four minutes, and when we did hear that a rider was down, we were there at the scene in two minutes."

No matter whose account is right, starting on Thursday morning, Spence ordered the ambulance to be parked on the Pimlico track apron in the mornings, putting emergency technicians closer to the action.

Spence is the only full-time emergency medical technician on the staff of the two tracks.

That might be another problem.

Spence, who is credited with saving the life of trainer Gretchen Mobberley last summer when she was kicked in the stomach by a horse, is on at duty at Laurel during morning training hours. He doesn't get to Pimlico until after the track is closed for training.

He relies on seven part-timers, mostly firefighters from Baltimore, to be at the track in the morning. The men work on a rotating schedule. There is a different two-person crew each day.

Track management could hire another full-time EMT for Pimlico in the morning, but Spence said he has had no problem, other than occasional lateness, with the crew.

What he has learned from the Driscoll incident, he said, "is that we have to be more attentive."

Spence said that under the track's insurance policy, an ambulance and two EMTs must be on duty at all times.

That is why it is necessary for a city ambulance to arrive and transport from the track to the hospital, even though Sinai is so close.

"We can't leave," said Williams. "Suppose there was another accident?"

Usually, there are no problems with the city rescue squad arriving immediately. In the Driscoll case, the squad was on the scene almost simultaneously with the track crew, said Donna Lockard, an exercise rider and trainer.

Another solution would be to have two ambulances and four EMTs on duty in the morning. But Spence said: "We don't get that many incidents that often [to justify the expense]."

But there are now two ambulances stationed on the track during the races in the afternoons -- one at the top of the stretch and one at the gap on the backstretch. The request for the additional ambulance came from the Jockeys Guild, the national organization representing the riders.

But the 50 or so exercise riders at Pimlico in the morning have no such organization to look after their needs.

"I know we don't take the same risks as the riders in the races in the afternoon, but we are still at risk," said Michelle Fall, a former jockey who is now an exercise rider.

Those risks increase as the current crop of 2-year-olds -- unschooled in the ways of the racetrack and unpredictable in their behavior -- start to fill up the stable area during the spring.

"I look and see what happened to Kathy, and it's scary," Fall said. "Changes need to be made. We might not have the visibility as the jockeys in the afternoons, but people need to know: We are important, too."

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