A Night in the Life of Santa Barbara County Fire Department: Halloween Style

Members of the fire department and search and rescue crews tend to injured student

Annalise Domenighini

News Editor

Photo by Annalise Domenighini

While others took part in the classic if not cliché Isla Vista Halloween, I took the opportunity to shadow the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and see what an evening is like for those whose uniforms aren’t costumes. Though more slow-paced than dramatic, I fully enjoyed my behind the scenes experience.

The night began around 8 p.m. at the fire department’s tent located next to Isla Vista Foot Patrol with Operations Division Chief Bob Bell where I met Engineers/Inspectors Ryan Riddle, an experienced IV Halloween participant and Lonny Maniscalco, a trained paramedic, who together made up Team Two.

According to Riddle, Isla Vista Halloween is labeled as an MCI, or a mass-casualty incident, which means there are more injuries than one or two people can handle at a time, thus many emergency service providers are present. Each of the three teams of two are assigned calls depending on where they station themselves throughout the night.

The teams streamline the process of responding to a call by asking one basic question- ‘how hurt are you?’ The response, or lack thereof, will decide which medical service to provide. If serious, the person is taken to the closest police barricade where an ambulance transports them to a hospital.

The careful organization of the police department is evident in the purpose of the barricades. While there are complaints about moving cars or going through the barricades, Riddle and other members commend it, noting they make it easier to access Del Playa and respond to emergency calls.

“Regulation [of people] is a problem when it comes to providing service,” said Riddle, who explained that driving a fire engine through DP on Halloween would be a nightmare due to the excitability of the crowd.

Teams One, Two and Three met around 9:30 p.m. on the corner of Camino Pescadero and Trigo to discuss how to handle the rest of the night. The group stood and observed for an hour while things started to pick up in order to gauge what the night might look like. Most of it, though, was spent walking along DP in case of potential accidents or injuries.

Although things were slow and people were well behaved, both Riddle and Maniscalco kept their eyes open for any potentially dangerous situations.  Riddle attributed the sluggish night potentially the higher caliber of students recently admitted, but agreed with me when I posed the Social Host Ordinance and Festival Ordinance in place for the weekend as a reason too. Perhaps, then, city officials and law enforcement have accomplished what they set out to do many years ago.

At roughly 11:30 p.m., Team Two responded to a call of alcohol poisoning on the 6590 block of DP. Although it is interesting to see the other side of an emergency call, it was not a catalyst that changed the night from a slow procession of minor injuries to an adrenaline filled constant response event. While emergencies did happen, they were few and far between – people are either getting smarter about drinking, or the ordinances in place are working.

“We were happy to see so many people having a good time with such a small percentage of people needing emergency care,” said Cheif Bell.

So some may see the quiet night as a sign that University of California Santa Barbara is losing its reputation, but it might just be a good thing. A drive through IV made evident the great number out-of-towners and while I can’t deny the pride that comes with living in one of the most popular Halloween destinations, its tiresome to direct countless people to Freebirds. In addition, the services are not cheap; the county spent an estimated $250,000-$400,000 this year alone on extra services.

Similar to law enforcement, my ride-along companions keep people safe and take their job seriously without ruining the fun. However, Riddle and Maniscalco confirmed that they often catch a lot of flack for what they do, but don’t particularly mind it anymore. The men never stopped looking for a potentially dangerous situation to ensure the safety of students and be the first to respond, and were often thanked for their presence.

Regardless if they’re being catcalled by ladies while driving their truck through IV or responding to a call it’s obvious that these guys care, even when it means having to stand through five hours of practically nothing but the cold and some amusing, if not downright disturbing, costumes.