Lancaster, NY - The first responders who raced to the practice fields behind Lancaster High School Monday afternoon - where four people were severely shocked when they pushed a portable goal post into a high voltage power line - say two of the victims were nearly killed.
"They were in very critical condition," recalled Paramedic Matt Chowaniec of Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps, who believes that if the two most seriously injured victims had gone much longer without being assisted they may well have expired.
"Probably, yes," Chowaniec told WGRZ-TV. "I mean, if you figure you're in cardiac arrest your heart stops beating, your body doesn't get oxygen. You become hypoxemic and so on and so forth."
"It was a chaotic scene," said Bowmansville Fire Department Assistant Chief Bob Sinclair, the incident commander on site.
"We had one patient, a 15 year old, who was in cardiac arrest and obviously unconscious, laying on the ground separate from the goal post but very close to it. The second most injured victim was lying also next to the goal post but on the other end and he was not breathing so they did rescue breathing for him to get him going," Sinclair said.
"The other two (victims) actually walked away from the scene. We found one of them sitting near the polls along a driveway, and the other was walking around aimlessly. Neither one knew what happened and both had serious entry and exit burns."
The victims, who Lancaster Police have not identified, suffered burns to their hands and feet when electricity from the 34,500-volt line surged through the aluminum goal post and through their bodies in seeking its path to ground.
"I would say they're fortunate that what they were moving was in contact with the ground if you look at the burn marks on the grass (outlining the base of the goal post) you can see a lot of the energy went that way," Sinclair said.
Lancaster Police Chief Jerry Gill says the victims, all males, were ages 15, 17, 18, and 28.
While the three oldest recuperate at the Erie County Medical Center, Gill says the youngest and most seriously hurt, is being treated at Children's Hospital where as of Tuesday evening he was "responsive to stimulus", but still unable to talk.
Gill lauded Lancaster Police Detective Keith Kerl in particular, for his life saving effort regarding the 15 year old victim.
According to Gill, Kerl responded to the scene without being called to do so, because he is also a trained EMT with the Twin District Fire Company.
Kerl arrived just behind Officers Edward Clark and Robert Cornell, one of whom had an automated external defibrillator (AED) in their patrol car, and which Kerl used to resuscitate the non-responsive teen.
According to Gill, the portable goal post was moved a few days prior to Monday's incident, from one practice field to another and safely beneath the very same power line, to accommodate a football kicking camp held this past weekend. When participants attempted to move it back they were not as fortunate.
It is unclear whether the operators of the football camp or the school district was responsible for moving the goal posts, and Lancaster school officials referred all comments on Tuesday to their attorney, Terrance Flynn, who did not return phone calls.
Ironically, the incident occurred just hours before the Lancaster Town Board was scheduled to vote on extending the contract for Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which transported all four victims from the scene.
Though in recent years it has been debated whether the town should continue to utilize LVAC, or go with another emergency responder, board members voted unanimously Monday to extend the service for another three years.
Sinclair lauded all of the parties involved in the rescue, including police, fire, and ambulance personnel, who he said kept their heads and pulled together to save the injured.
"It was a very stressful scene and they all performed very well, and the outcome we hope is going to be very positive," he said.
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