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Ocean City

Responders forced to improvise when 600-lb man falls on beach

(Sept. 6, 2013) Although an ability to improvise is common to most emergency service personnel, the unique conditions and diverse population of the resort continue to make Ocean City a challenge for even the quickest of wits.

One such scenario was at the end of August when a man weighing nearly 600 pounds was helped off the beach by a multitude of city staff and gear.

“This was the largest person I’ve seen, in-person,” said Ocean City Beach Patrol Lt. Ward Kovacs, who responded to the scene on the evening of Monday, Aug. 19. “The man’s friend, who was trying to help him, informed us that he weighed 590 pounds.”

The beach patrol, as well as the Ocean City Police Department and the Ocean City Fire Department, responded to a call of a man who had fallen on the beach and was unable to stand.

Upon arriving at the scene, they determined the man had not sustained any major injuries, but was simply unable to right himself given the soft sand and his physical girth.

Patients are typically removed from the beach using one of the beach patrol’s ATVs, either sitting behind the driver or on a backboard that can be mounted to the rear of the vehicle. Despite the ATVs being able to support a considerable amount of weight, Kovacs said, the fallen man was unable to mount the ATV on the scene given his physical volume.

“We can transport someone who weighs several hundred pounds pretty easily on an ATV, but clearly with this guy that wasn’t going to work,” Kovacs said.

Instead, first responders flagged down a maintenance truck from the city’s Public Works Department that was on the beach. The ATV was then used to pull the man into a standing position. With the tools emptied out of the Public Works pickup, the truck backed up behind the man with its tailgate down.

The height of the truck, however, was too tall for the man to be able to sit securely on the tailgate. All of the police, beach patrol, and EMS personnel on the scene simultaneously leaned on the truck bed’s rails to lower the suspension to where the man could sit, Kovacs said, and he was then driven back to his own vehicle.

Although not a common occurrence, the OCFD fields five or so medical calls per year that involve patients who are physically too large to transport by conventional means, OCFD Assistant Chief Chris Shaffer said.

“When we do run into it, it’s one of those deals where you have to think outside the box,” Shaffer said.

Most of the city’s ambulances are equipped with hydraulic stretchers that are rated up to 700 pounds, Shaffer said. Like with the ATVs, the issue is less the weight and more the size – the standard stretcher is 18-20 inches wide, and unable to accommodate the girth of a person that size.

Specially equipped ambulances, known as ‘bariatric units,’ are available to transport larger-than-normal patients. These include wide stretchers that can be manually leveraged by several people using metal poles, making their weight capacity essentially unlimited.

“We’re in the process of looking to upgrade one of our older units into a bariatric unit,” Shaffer said. “The only other unit in the area is in Salisbury. We’re running into situations like this more and more, and we can’t call Salisbury and wait for someone who might be jammed up on another call.”

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  1. Why waste the money on the special Ambulance? People like this continually put a strain on the healthcare system. If you’re so big you cant right yourself then you need to rethink your life.


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