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Report & audio tapes from deadly Indiana State Fair collapse. TV station looks at lack of MCI plan & coordination.


Radio traffic & raw video from previous coverage on

WTHR-TV has been looking into the police, fire and EMS response to the August 13 stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair just before a planned perfomance by the group Sugarland that left seven people dead and scores injured. The story above focuses on the official release of audio tapes and a redacted Indianapolis Fire Department after action report the TV station obtained. WTHR looks at coordination between the fire department, Indiana State Police and Indiana Homeland Security and what, if any, mass casualty plan was in place at the Indiana State Fair.

According to reporter Sandra Chapman, the fire department was asked to provide EMS units for the fair for the first time in a decade and had been assisting in a support role, but after the collapse ended up "leading the command by default".

One of the most significant issues, according to WTHR-TV, was getting ambulances in and out of the fair grounds. Here are excerpts from the story:

"We need to rethink our strategy. It's not working. We need to get the trucks down here in order for us to start working the medical thing to get patients out of here. Do what we have to do. Have state police open up the line. But we need to get the trucks up here. We can't keep having the patients dragged across the pavement up to you," said the commander.

"What kind of plan do you have? What resources do you have down there? We're starting to go critical on a lot of our patients. They're starting to go from yellow to red on us, they're going into shock," warned another responder desperate to get patients help.

In the video above. another story focusing on more aspects of the response to the incoming weather and the MCI.

From the AP:

There's new information about the tragic Indiana state fair stage collapse in August. The chilling emergency radio calls for help and behind the scenes details were made public Thursday.

“State police 13-c looks like about 30 minutes or less before weather comes in,” was the first call for possible trouble.

For the first time, confirmation that state police were awaiting the storm's arrival moments before the stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair. 

The warnings began at 8:38 p.m., five minutes before the collapse. 

“All units, all units, severe thunderstorm warnings at 9:45 for Marion County.  Use your best judgment, find shelter when needed," officials said on the tapes.

Two minutes later, a voice of concern, thousands of people were still awaiting the Sugarland concert, standing right in front of the stage. That's when we hear the call inquiring whether fans had been moved to safety.

“Have they released fans from the grandstands yet?" an official could be heard asking in the tapes.

“I have no information on that I will check and advise,“ another official responded.

Three minutes later, a lone radio call of sheer panic.

“The stage has collapsed. (inaudible) …I'm calling a mass casualty.“

That was at 8:40 p.m. Seconds later, reports of the human toll began trickling in. Some trapped, others going into shock. Those critically injured were code reds, the walking wounded were greens and yellows. The dead, tagged in black.

“Multiple reds.  Multiple reds.  Unknown blacks.  I need everything to the grandstand. I've got at least one with a head injury,“ one official said in the tapes.

At 8:48 p.m. with heavy rain and more wind expected, it was a scramble to evacuate.

“Unknown type of weather. We may need to expedite evacuating the rest of the major grandstands. “

“Copy that, working with state police on evacuations at this time. “

And then the first descriptions of the chaotic scene, the devastation and the need for help in a hurry.
Situation is this, the stage framework and the speakers have collapsed onto the rows of chairs just in front.

“Can you estimate total quantity of patients? “
“A lot. “
“Do you think we need to start more than five units? “
“Absolutely. “
“I've got one behind the stage, black tag done.”

The first reported fatality, just 11 minutes after the collapse.

The collapse took the lives of seven individuals including Tri-State resident, Megan Toothman .


Comments - Add Yours

  • doobis

    It often seems on any incident, from a "simple" fire to a regional disaster, no matter how well managed the operations and command are in ICS, if logistics fail, the entire scene is compromised or fails (water supply/tankers, Katrina, etc).  
    It is any important lesson to learn for any organization tasked with emergency response that ops and command cannot fuction at the expense of planning, logistics, and finance in ICS.

    • dave statter

      I think it was in 1993 when I was speaking on a panel at FH Expo I sat in on a presentation about the 1992 rioting in Los Angeles. I apologize for not remembering who from LAFD was presenting, but he said something like, use your smartest and most resourceful chief, not as IC or running a firground, but put him/her in logisitics. He pointed out what we all know, that the little details that aren’t taken care of will screw you up. It always stuck with me.


  • Former Chief

    Good points on planning and logistics, especially planning.  Before I retired, I was a County Emergency Managment Coordinator for several years in a fairly large County.  The challenge always was to make everyone understand how important it was to plan for the worst case scenario, especially for mass gatherings.  Emergency Management has always been an all hazards approach, but getting people to understand the potential for large scale incidents, even many of the first responders, is sometimes difficult, and frustrating.  We tend to build our "silos" and only worry about our respective discipline.  I can only speak for myself, but many times I had to convince the key players of the importance of making an Incident Action Plan.  This wasn't always easy and there were times when we just formulated a plan at the County level so we were prepared when things went bad at an event in one of our municipalities.  Needless to say, there were more than a few sleepless nights over the years.  I could go on and on, but I'll get off my soap box.  I don't want to second guess the response at the Fair.  There seems to be plenty of people looking into the gaps there.  All I can say is "Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail". 


    This is yet another example of the FD being relegated to an "assisting" agency during planning while another agency does the "we got it" act…until the excrement hits the fan and the FD has to ramp up immediately and take charge, either by default or because everyone else looks to the FD and says "what do we do now?" or "what are YOU going to do?".  Let's see if Indiana or Indianapolis makes any changes and requires the FD to be front and center in the planning stages of any event that has the potential to become a mass casualty event.   Perhaps some other municipalities will learn from this too and change their operations.

  • capthoco

    How about some of the police that are 'milling' around in the video work on some traffic and crowd control. Do your job so the FD and EMS can do theirs.

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  • http://N/A Thomas

    I am sorry but three EMS crews as reported in the news report was funded for the usual "first aid" station detail. The news once again sensationalized the lack of FD/EMS presence. Do they expect to have the entire fire department on detail? Who going to fund that? Sure if your concert ticket was a $1000. a piece maybe they could have ramped up stand by to handle a MCI but nobody would buy a ticket to see Sugarland.  This is common at every major sporting event or concert. The "on scene" detail whether private or municipal are always understaffed. They weren't there to mitigate an MCI.
    How about we point the news story, and the lawyers in the right direction? and the lawsuits should be directed at fairground management, the staff who built the stage, and ultimately control who made the decision for a go / no go.  Every FF / EMS  / Law Enforcement Officer that was there, or responded to the MCI were attempting to do the best they can do with the manpower they had.
    This tradgey should have never occurred to begin with… and you would see concerts and races continue with under manned staffing but unfortunately "the city" has the biggest wallet.

    • dave statter


      From my point of view the TV story was quite fair and sympathetic to the fire department (admittedly I only know what I read and watched). They made it clear that the fire department was brought in for the first time in ten years and had three crews on standby. I got the impression from reading and watching the story that the fire department was left holding the bag for poor planning by those in charge of the State Fair.

      But by redacted the findings of its own investigation the fire department did not do itself any favors. And why were the findings crossed out? Allegedly because of the pending lawsuit. Does that make any sense?

      Maybe the lawyers can explain it to this stupid former reporter, but that excuse isn’t flying with me.

      Let me ask you, when the suits go to discovery and the planitff’s lawyer asks for all documents, do you think they are going to get a redacted copy like that or the whole report? Even if they did try to go the redacted route, is it likely a judge is going to let the city get away with it?

      Yes, the news media should also look at some of the things you mentioned, but if the people running the fair never thought about what to do beyond handling a few bumps and bruises and chest pains when the fair was in operation, where they doing their jobs?

      I don’t think anyone expected them to have a full MCI response contingent on the fair grounds, but is it unreasonable to ask if there was a plan to get those resources in and out if needed?


  • http://N/A Thomas

    The story had a person talking about PTSD and a patron suing the city over the trauma.  The root cause of the problem was "The Stage collapsed due to high winds"  Key word = STAGE. How about doing a story on who made the stage? What was the stage rated for? Was it indoor or outdoor rated? Was it rated for a cetain amount of lateral wind sheer? Who was responsible for making sure it was set up correctly?  Who owned the stage? Who actually set the stage up? Were they trained or certified to set it up? Did the fairgrounds or another agency who runs the fairgrounds make those decisions or was the fire department there to enforce the codes and also emergency plan?  If a ferris wheel fell off during a fair, it wasn't the lack of EMS readiness that caused the injuries or death(s) it was the ferris wheel and the minimum wage hands who probably set it up. Sugarland played a free concert to make it up to the community? Come on, that should be considered a slap in the face. They make millions and they were ultimately responsible for the stage falling over and killing those patrons.  The fire department should be concerned with their internal report. They are the one's who are still there to deal with the aftermath while the people who caused this drove off in their shiny tour bus with their pockets full. That fairground has had events there forever and I am pretty sure the reason the FD was kept out of the internal operations over the years was because the fairground felt they could manage it for less money. The bottom line is if the FD doesn't have the authority to manage it from the start, they will never be able to pick up the pieces after a stage falls, the bleachers collapse, or anything else that causes an MCI  and make it work smoothly as if they had been able to "Disaster Plan" beforehand. So without disaster preparedness on part of the fairground, band management or any other agency, it now falls into the lap of the fire chief. If your potential job, or livelihood happened to be the fire chief, and you were the one listed on an internal report, I would suspect Dave Statter wouldn't release anything when you start to hear that people are now looking to sue you because you were not prepared, even though you were not invited to participate to begin with.

    • dave statter

      Actually Thomas I would hope that I would be smarter than you describe and follow what I believe in. Delaying the inevitable and giving any appearance of covering something up makes a bad situation worse. It isn’t just about the a fire chief, or a mayor or a CEO. It’s about the image of anorganization and the trust of the community.

      Bad news does not get better with age. Holding onto it usually makes it smell much worse. Getting it out and behind you, while working to correct the problems and restore the public’s trust, is almost always a better route. History has shown it is usually the cover up and not the crime that causes careers to be lost and images to be greatly eroded.

      It is very likely that legal minds for the City of Indianapolis or the mayor’s office made that decision and not the fire chief. I just think it is one that doesn’t help them. Those in charge, whether it’s a government agency, a municipality or a major corporation often have to balance what the lawyers want you them to do and what the public relations folks want them to do. Usually those tactics are at odds.

      I provide the view of those worried about the image. I believe if you lose the trust of those you serve you don’t have much of an organization (in the private sector that can mean death for a company).

      As for the other angles of the story, I agree 100 percent they should be looked at by the news media in Indianapolis and I think that is likely they did do some of that. If there were articles on the stage construction it isn’t likely I would have know about them or published it. It’s not what we do here. But a critical and fair look at emergency response by the news media is important for maintaining public confidence in an organization and can be crucial to the organization’s well being and longevity.

      That said, I have no indication anyone is covering anything up. And again I do think the fire department came off looking pretty good in that news report despite the redacted report and not going on camera addressing the issues. My guess is someone within the FD was able to still get their story to the reporter, even if it wasn’t official.


      • Former Chief

        I know I said I was going to get off my soapbox on this incident, but I can't help myself sometimes.  I watched the news report again and I don't see the FD being blamed or singled out for the events that evening.  If anything, in my opinion, the news report under emphasized the redacted report.  Why even issue a report like that?  That will lead the average person to suspect something is being covered up.  That may or may not be the case, but that's the impression it gives.  Issue a report with the information that you KNOW and if the critique is ongoing, say that, but provide the information you can.  I'm sure the FD took Command "by default".  That's almost always the way it works in my experience.  Apparently, if the FD was asked or decided by themselves to increase their presence for the Fair, someone had some idea the response capabilites were previously inadequate.  If whoever runs the State Fair only provided funding for a limited number of responders, say that.  No one expects a MCI response on standby, but you know you could potentially have an MCI at venues such as this, so PLAN FOR IT.  So, who is the lead agency responsible for planning and response at the Fair?  Is there a Command Post or Operations Center established?  Who is in the CP?  Is there a Uified Command?  What agencies are responsible for what activities (Sections, Branches, Groups, Teams)?  Remember NIMS.  Aren't all First Responders across the country supposed to be trained to the same level of ICS using the same terminology?  I know it's probably not realistic to think this way, but if your planning and response is sufficient in your mind, then you shouldn't be worried about lawsuits, should you?  Again, I am hopeful an honest evaluation of this incident is done so that others can learn from OUR mistakes and hopefully mitigate similar events in the future.

  • SB

    I am a FF/EMT in a neighboring county to Marion Co, (Indpls.) so I have sort of followed the stories.  Obviously it has been a real mess from the get-go w/ numerous lawsuits being filed against many different entities.  As far as the response that night by Fire/EMS, this is really the first time anything has come out, in fact I hadn't seen the story until on here.  Needless to say, it was mass chaos at the scene w/ hundreds of people adding to the confusion.  I don't think any of the responding agencies knew exactly how serious the incident was until further in.  It just kept escallating. I heard there was confusion by dispatchers and the FD as to which stations got the initial response.  Station 10 (I believe) which is just a mile away from the west side of the fairgrounds possibly didn';t get dispatched right away. 
    As far as at scene, yes the fairgrounds is difficult to access when just routine business is going on, let alone a total disaster.  Reduced access in and out, add all the responder vehicles, limited track access due to rain, and yes, it is a big guam.  The track is between the stage and grandstand and all of the injured were down on the track.  In pictures and footage that I saw, there were only a few units on the track including two H.D. wreckers and IFD's heavy rescue which is their collapse unit and one other recsue and engine.  No ambulances.
    They had to take the injured up into the grandstand and back out to the street to the triage/ ambulance area.  I think they did the best they could w/ the resources, type of incident and MULTIPLE agencies responding.  Just the media going after another angle.  They just keep going after someone else.

    • dave statter


      If, in fact, there was no plan on how to handle a large scale indicent at the State Fair grounds, particularly knowing the acess problems you have mentioned, isn’t that an important issue?

      Shouldn’t the public expect more from the people who are in charge?

      Why is the media to blame for asking these questions?

      So far, no one has shown me anything to give me pause about what the news media has done in this case, but I sure have a lot of questions about those in charge of the planning process for such a large event and even more questions with the information you have provided.


  • Former Chief

    Dave, for what it's worth, I couldn't agree with you more.  Seems like a whole lot of agencies in "damage control" mode.  I'm sure this would have been a difficult incident to manage even if they had a comprehensive plan, but it appears more and more like that wasn't the case.

    • dave statter

      And, Former Chief, I couldn’t agree with your comments more.

      There is no doubt an incident like that will always have problems and there will be lots of things you can do better. But, if they didn’t have a plan (and so far, no one seems to dispute it) they set themselves up for failure. Especially if, as SB wrote, they knew of access and egress issues.

      This is exactly why we have a free press, to question what government does. There are many times the news media is misguided and stupid and I am more than glad to call them on it. I don’t see it in what we know about this story. But someone please feel free to correct me with some facts I am missing.


  • Firemutt

    #1.  The Fair operators are ultimately responsible for not postponing or cancelling the concert.
    #2.  The concert goers were stupid for standing around with that weather coming in.
    #3.  Even if the FD was not invited to the table for planning EMS or Fire coverage, the fact remains the Fair Grounds are in the FD response area.  Do we not preplan fires, MVA, etc.  It is unspeakable that the FD did not have an MCI plan for the fairgrounds.  I have been there to watch a race and can see the issues that would need to be addressed in the event of a major emegency.  There is no excuse for the lack of a pre-plan.
    #4 As an example I am from a small town that has a holiday parade each year.  The parade has evolved from a few floats to about 45 units.  The town is only about 1 mile across and the small downtown area gets packed with several thousand people during the parade.  As the parade evolved over the years the FD and EMS in town were not brought to the planning table by organizers.  We made our own plans and eventually got the organizers to listen and meet with us annually to discuss each others plans.  We have had some ncidents over the years and for the most part everything has gone well, not perfect, but well.  Each time we revisit the plan and adjust as necessary.
    #5.  While I agree any major incident or MCI never goes exactly as it should, it will certainly be better if there is a plan.
    #6.  I don't think anyone is or should be claiming those on scene were not doing their best with what they had to work with.  Across the country we all do or should be doing our best work regardless of the cards we are dealt.
    It is a shame this happened and my hats of to those who were there doing what needed to be done.  While I have no idea why they edited the report it certainly gives the perception of a cover up.  They should say what they know and look into what they don't, end of story.  Most importantly get a plan, tell everyone what the plan is and use it.  People will continue to put the fire service in positions like this and it is our job to show up prepared and get it done.
    Stay Safe!