When disaster struck Churchill County on Friday, June 24, Humboldt County's EMS professionals were on the road within minutes to provide mutual aid.
In all, Humboldt General Hospital Emergency Medical Services Rescue sent five ambulances, one command vehicle, a rescue unit and a rehab trailer to the site of the collision between a semi truck and an Amtrak passenger train.
The train carrying 204 passengers and 14 crew members left at least six dead and dozens injured. Several of the train's cars also caught fire, creating even more chaos in what could now be considered one of Nevada's worst transportation disasters.
It was Churchill County EMS Director Steve Towne who initially called HGH EMS Rescue Director Pat Songer just minutes after the accident occurred. "His question to me was, 'How fast can you get here?'" said Songer.
"We had 14 people on the road within minutes," said Songer. "There was no way we weren't going to step up and provide aid to a sister community."
Following arrival at the disaster site, HGH EMS Rescue crews were primarily responsible for triage and transporting patients for care-including several that were critically injured.
They assisted the National Transportation Safety Board with their efforts, including checking the scene to make sure no victims of the collision were overlooked.
They also responded to a critical accident on Interstate 80, about 50 miles east of Reno, which required air transport from the scene.
Additionally, crews utilized their rehab trailer to look after fire crews who were prone to dehydration and exhaustion. The trailer is not only packed with medical supplies and equipment for such a scenario, but it also has a misting system to help keep patients cool.
Songer said the agency felt prepared to help, from both a training as well as a logistical standpoint. "We are always emphasizing preparedness," he said, "and Friday, we saw that those efforts can pay off in dividends."
In fact, Songer said a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper at the scene approached him at four different intervals, saying each time, "Who are you and where did you get all this stuff?"
HGH EMS Rescue wasn't the only agency that stepped up in Churchill's time of need, however. The Winnemucca Police Department sent its SWAT team to the scene, providing backup for HGH EMS Rescue's crews.
Also, a deputy from the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office was dispatched to the HGH ambulance station within minutes of crews' departures to the disaster site, completing two ambulance teams that were on call throughout the day.
An air ambulance was also called to stand by at the Winnemucca Municipal Airport while ground transport crews were away.
"It was an incredible show of generosity and community support," said Songer of the multiple agencies that came together, not only to help Churchill County but to ensure that Humboldt County was covered for possible emergencies as well.
"We were just very impressed with the police department, the sheriff's office and everyone else who stepped up to help keep everything rolling."
Songer said the train that was involved in the collision passed through Winnemucca just over an hour before disaster struck in Churchill County.
"We were reminded once again how important it is to prepare," he said. "That accident could very well have happened here."
Songer added, "But we do have great resources and very well-trained people, so there is a level of comfort there and good dose of motivation to keep moving forward in our preparedness efforts as a community."