Town makes flea market safety plans

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Hillsville police and the county’s director of emergency services prepare for influx of thousands of weekend visitors.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Police and emergency officials have plans in place to help safeguard the hundreds of thousands people expected to attend the Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market this weekend.
These efforts spearheaded by the Hillsville Police Department and Carroll County rescue squads have been designed to decrease response times and address the flea market’s greatest health risks, such as injuries through overheating, overexertion and falling.

The rescue squad plan involves dividing the flea market into five zones where each agency will provide primary emergency medical response, said Mike Mock, Carroll’s emergency services director. Staging ambulances at key points around the area congested by thousands of pedestrians should cut the time it takes the volunteers to find their patients.
Emergency services will have a 911 operator at the command center at CVS to dispatch the squads within their zones, he explained. Volunteers can call for assistance from other squads, if needed.
“We concentrate the majority of the units at [the command center] down to around Veterans Street, so they can go out from there,” Mock said.
If an emergency happens at the eastern edge of the flea market, Dugspur Rescue Squad is well positioned to go, for example, he said. Staging sites are selected to give volunteers more than one possible route to get to emergencies, too.
A lot of the health problems that emergency medical technicians respond to arise from having a sprawling event outside in the dog days of summer.
“We have a lot of heat-related injuries,” Mock said. “People are out all day in the sun, not hydrating enough. It’s easy to have a heat-related injury.
“The biggest thing is people need to hydrate, they need to drink a lot of water,” he advised.
Flea market visitors can find respite from the heat at cooling stations with fans and misting machines.
Additionally, people having a heat-related crisis could get relief from the Carroll County Schools’ mobile health unit, which provides a cool place for them to go inside and rehydrate.
Emergency officials used this method last year and believe it spared eight individuals from having to go to the hospital, Mock said.
In the past, cases of people overheating and needing treatment at the hospital has ranged from 15 - 30, depending on conditions.
The other major kind of injury that EMTs see involves falling, the emergency service director said. Often, this happens when it starts raining and people try to get out of the rain.
He advised people to take their time and move about carefully, especially in the rain.
At any given time, Mock expects to have seven ambulances and up to 25 volunteers at the flea market.
“Many people volunteer their time to come in and do that,” Mock said.
Personnel from Carroll Fire Rescue will cover calls in the county from stations in Cana, Laurel and Hillsville.
Hillsville police officers will patrol the flea market by car, by foot and — for the first time in years — by bike. Chief Greg Bolen believes using the bikes could cut down on response times by as much as half, based on his past experience.
It’s not uncommon for an attempt at grabbing merchandise and running to happen at the flea market.
“It improves our response time to any calls and we can move around better in the traffic and the crowd,” Bolen said. “A fast response time means a better chance of catching somebody.”
There’s also something about an officer being on a bike rather than in a patrol car that makes them more approachable to the public, the chief added.
Four officers, including Bolen, will take to the streets on a bike during the flea market.
Another two officers each will be stationed at the Grover King Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1115 and at the intersection of U.S. 58 and Grayson Street to help with traffic control and emergency response times. “If someone’s sick, the faster we can get help to them the better.”
While one of the officers can patrol on foot, the goal is to always have the other at those intersections, Bolen said.
One reason the chief wants officers to be visible in the crowd is to answer questions and hear any concerns from flea market attendees. He encouraged visitors to stop police personnel for information.
Common questions he’s heard over the years involves where a traveler can get a vehicle repaired on the weekend or how close is the nearest hospital or urgent care center.
Bolen appreciates the help that’s being provided by other agencies, including the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, the EMS, Virginia Department of Transportation.
It takes a lot of assistance to cope with the flea market that can attract half a million people to a town of less than 3,000, he stressed. Still, he wouldn’t mind seeing a record-setting crowd come into town.
“I hope we have a safe, rain-free weekend,” the chief said.
The flea market runs from Friday until Monday, on lots and locations throughout Hillsville.