The CEO of ParaDocs, the medic company hired by Astroworld organizers, spoke on camera for the first time Monday to “set the record straight” on what his team did and to defend how hard his staff of more than 70 people worked to save lives.
Alex Pollak told reporters said his staff faced an “impossible feat” of treating 11 people with cardiac arrests at the same time. He said while an active threat like a crowd surge is underway, protocol prohibits them from going into a situation where they might risk personal harm. Yet his staff continued to go back into the dangerous crowd to help people.
“This is something I’ll have nightmares about for the rest of my life,” Pollak said. “The team is extremely broken up about it. Seeing so many young people getting CPR at one time, it’s just something no one should have to go through. Even though we’re medical professionals, we should be used it. You can’t get used to something like that.”
Days earlier, Houston officials said firefighters were not in contact with ParaDocs staff, and when firefighters did ask for radio communications they were instead given cellphone numbers, according to Patrick M. “Marty” Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
Pollak, who was working the concert, said ParaDocs staff did use radios provided by the event organizers.
The drop in communication was just one of many things that went wrong that Friday night when concertgoers were crushed, trampled and struggled to breathe as the packed crowd surged toward an outdoor stage when rapper and headliner Travis Scott started performing. A total of 10 people have died as a result of the chaotic concert.
Pollak said Paradocs did not have the ability to call a stop to the concert. He said he believes the concert should have been stopped sooner, but that stopping the concert abruptly in that moment might have caused riots and worsened the situation. He said he can’t speculate on what could have been done to prevent the situation.
Pollak said the standard ratio at these types of events is one medic per thousand people. ParaDocs had staff and resources in anticipation of 70,000 people, when the actual concert attendance was estimated around 50,000.
ParaDocs specializes in providing medical care at large events, Pollak said, adding that his team has a lot of experience in concert production lingo and logistics. They are typically brought in so that local first responders can continue to focus on regular 911 calls in their community. Pollak said ParaDocs does not own any ambulances, but five to seven ambulances were contracted to serve Astroworld.
CEO says challenge was getting in and out of venue
Additional information from fire and police officials at the festival reveal a situation that grew increasingly dangerous before and during Scott’s set. Ambulances took a handful of injured concertgoers to the hospital that morning and afternoon, according to Houston Fire Department logs.
HPD reported “dangerous crowd conditions” at one stage hours before Scott was set to perform. Eight minutes before Scott took the stage at 9 p.m., more than 260 people had already been treated, according to the logs, which did not specify the type of treatment. And a 9:18 p.m. entry noted a “crush injury.”
Less than half an hour into Scott’s performance, the log states: “This is when it all got real.”
“Multiple people trampled, passed out at front of stage” at 9:33 p.m., police reported. Minutes later, a police operator reported five 911 calls about “unconscious persons in crowd. Report of possible CPR.”
Pollak, the ParaDocs CEO, said his staff — which includes former Army combat medics — performed CPR on the back of carts, but concert-goers were jumping on top of the carts, pulling them off of people.
“They thought it was a joke,” Pollak said, adding that no CPR patient was ever waiting for an ambulance to come.
“We never came close to running out of equipment and supplies. We could have treated at least double the amount of patients. We never expected in our lives to encounter a situation like that. It was absolutely horrific,” Pollak said.
He said the challenge was not resources or staff but the difficulty of getting in and out of the dangerous crowd to reach those in need of medical help.
Pollak described a Unified Command, where multiple entities sat at the same table throughout the day: Houston police, festival security, festival production staff, Paradocs dispatchers and Harris County Emergency Core dispatchers.
He said it was one of Paradocs’ dispatchers at Unified Command who stood up and made the “mass casualty incident” declaration.
Judge loses push for independent investigation
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signaled last week she wanted to direct a potential third party to conduct an independent investigation into Astroworld.
“What happened at Astroworld this weekend was a horrific tragedy, and the families of victims deserve answers. There may well be criminal liability, and that is why we continue to fully support the Houston Police Department’s criminal investigation,” said Rafael Lemaitre, communications director for Hidalgo.
“At the same time, Harris County continues its process of identifying a separate independent, third party to look into any operational or administrative steps — beyond anything criminal — that could have been taken to prevent this from happening.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner defended his department’s ability to investigate the tragedy, saying an independent probe is “not warranted right now.”
Hidalgo failed to get the support necessary from Harris County Commissioners to conduct an independent investigation, she told reporters Monday.
“I really tried to do my absolute best in public and in private to push for this,” Hidalgo said. “What the commissioners supported is an independent look at the events that are scheduled for NRG park to make sure that they’re following best practices.”
The motion that was passed unanimously by Harris County Commissioners Court supported HPD’s investigation and directed the County Administrator “to meet with the Harris County Sports Convention Corporation and the Houston Harris County Sports Authority to conduct an independent review of the security, fire, life, and safety plans of all scheduled outdoor concerts on NRG park property.”
The review would also be in coordination with the mayor’s office and “relevant departments,” the motion read.
“The wording is so vague that really not much comes of it,” Hidalgo said.
The reasons why county commissioners didn’t support Hidalgo’s proposal are unclear because the discussions happened in executive session, which are not public.
Before going into executive session, Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia raised questions about liability.
“An item could open a door for liability that the county currently is not exposed to. And so if there is that possibility, I’d like to discuss this in an executive session,” Garcia said.
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