Underage drinking at Hartford concert venue strains emergency services

HARTFORD -- Police and the Xfinity Theater staff held a meeting Tuesday in response to Friday’s Chance the Rapper concert which lead to close to 100 people being rushed to the hospital.  The majority of the people transported to hospitals required treatment for issues related to alcohol abuse and the majority were underage.

According to AMR, American Medical Response, Inc., 96 people had to be transported to hospitals in 12 different towns.  The ambulance service also said 16 percent of the transports happened before the concert ever started.

Some of the patients treated for alcohol abuse issues Friday night were as young as 15 years old.  Dr. Steven Wolf, head of the emergency department at Saint Francis Hospital, explained patients needed to be spanned out to area hospitals including Manchester Hospital, New Britain General, and UConn John Dempsey Hospital, while Hartford Hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and Saint Francis took the brunt of the patient load.

He explained when there is such a high number of patients coming in a short amount of time, having to span them out to area hospitals helps reduce the strain on any one ER staff, but adds different challenges, like adding the time ambulances are kept away from the venue and from other potential emergencies.

“So it affects every body, it affects patient care, it’s a big problem,” Dr. Wolf explained.  He’s been working with city departments in recent years to try and prevent high volumes of underage drinking at these kinds of concert events.

“Dave Matthews was the sentinel event where it started to look at ‘is there a better way to do this?’ and that was 90 transports each night for two nights,” Dr. Wolf said.

He said Friday night’s events were a repeat of what went down in 2010, describing what they see from patients as they are rushed in from the concert venue.

“They’re just about unconscious some have to be intubated because they’re not breathing, we’re protecting their airway just about everybody that needs to be transported can’t hold they’re head up even.  It’s not like they’re a little tipsy they are just about comatose,” Dr. Wolf added.

AMR released the following statement to FOX61 news in response to Friday’s events:

"In our over 21 years working in partnership with the Hartford police and fire departments and the Xfinity management team to keep concertgoers at this venue safe, we have never seen this level of transports needed. We applaud our partners for working diligently to identify underage drinkers, and also thank all of our EMTs and paramedics from Hartford and the surrounding areas for working quickly to attend to 184 emergency medical requests and transporting 96 of those to 12 area hospitals." —Chuck Babson, AMR Eastern Connecticut

FOX 61 also spoke with Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin, who said, “There were 75 Hartford police officers at the concert, paid for by the concert venue and a State grant the City received to address underage drinking.”

“We are extremely concerned by the underage drinking at Friday’s concert.  The excessive drinking that took place puts lives at risk and imposes a significant burden on the Hartford Police Department and other first responders.  The City and the Police Department will be working with the venue and operators of the surrounding parking lots to determine how to prevent similar issues going forward.  We also urge parents to take responsibility for ensuring that their kids understand the very real risks of alcohol consumption.  Our priority is the health and safety of everyone who comes to enjoy entertainment at the Xfinity Theatre or at any other venue in Hartford."—Mayor Luke Bronin

Hartford Police told FOX61 following Tuesday’s meeting with the Xfinity Theater staff that the concert venue expressed their willingness to help prevent underage drinking and improve safety.  The department went on to say, “We mutually agreed on increased enforcement coverage as well as other measures to improve safety. We will continue to work through those details as the next events approach.”

FOX61 reached out to Xfinity Theater staff several times but have not yet heard back.