The Daily Gamecock

Williams-Brice prepares for another scorcher against Missouri

Record number treated at first-aid stations in home opener against East Carolina

Columbia is known for being “famously hot.”

But sometimes it can be closer to dangerously hot, especially with 80,000 people seated together inside the metal bowl of Williams-Brice Stadium in the last days of the summer’s heat.

On an afternoon when temperatures topped out around 90 degrees, 223 patients were treated at seven first-aid stations and a mobile EMS bus during the Sept. 8 home football opener against East Carolina University.

That was a stadium record, according to Shawn Burke, the assistant athletic director for operations and event management.

With temperatures forecast to be near 90 degrees for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff against Missouri, Burke said stadium management’s first-aid planning and equipment this weekend will be similar to the way it was against ECU.

Two extra doctors were on hand for the ECU game, for a total seven doctors at seven first-aid stations, along with 29 EMS personnel on motorcycle first-aid units patrolling the fairgrounds, an EMS Gator in the stadium and a mobile first-aid EMS bus, Burke said.

Three or four cooling fans were also set up on the concourse that day, Burke said. The stadium has ordered more for the future, too.

“It was busy, but everybody got attended to; everybody got taken care of,” Burke said. “Everybody was safe; everybody was treated. A lot were heat-related, some fainting. But no casualties, no major health issues.”

Despite the first-aid preparations, students complained of the heat and of inadequate concessions service on a day of high demand, and many chose to leave the game early rather than sit out in the heat.

The sparse student crowd in the second half drew criticism from head football coach Steve Spurrier following the game.

Chelsea Welch, a third-year early childhood education student, described unusually long lines at the concession stands near the student section and said several people required first-aid attention while waiting in line for water that was apparently running out of supply.

“They had just run out of water, so they were offering Powerade. [A worker] was having trouble opening water bottles, so he was just tossing them to the side,” Welch said. “We want to support our team, but it’s hard to when the heat is so extreme that we can barely stand up, which is honestly how I felt.

“We can’t really help it — would you rather have a bunch of students passed out on the bleachers or an empty student section?”

The stadium did not run out of water, Burke said, though there were some “hardware issues” at some of the concession stands during the ECU game. He also noted that upon entering the stadium, fans are permitted to bring in one sealed bottle of water each.

It was a different scene at last weekend’s game against UAB, though, an evening game with temperatures in the mid-80s.

EMS reported 135 first-aid cases for the game, Burke said.

“Fans complained the first week, but are now praising us after the UAB game. (Service) will improve every week,” Burke said.

Burke also said television broadcasts dictate each week’s kickoff time, so the university doesn’t control when it gets afternoon games.

“It seems like it’s happening more and more across the country, where weather’s affecting these ball games, and you have to be prudent, plan ahead,” Burke said. “And safety is of course of utmost importance.”

But as the season drags on, Burke said, doctors should have fewer issues to deal with.

“You can’t control the weather,” he said. “You get through the first couple weeks of September, and we should be good.”