When Emergencies Strike, Local Tourist Attractions Ready to Act

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

A Colonial Williamsburg Security Officer holds an automated external defibrillator. The device, which diagnoses and treats heart issues, was instrumental in saving the life of a visitor to the living history museum. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
A Colonial Williamsburg Security Officer holds an automated external defibrillator. The device, which diagnoses and treats heart issues, was instrumental in saving the life of a visitor to the living history museum. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

Dan and Connie Stonesifer of Gettysburg, Pa., came to Williamsburg for the first time earlier this month to see the sights on recommendations from several people.

After arriving on the afternoon of July 6, they set out the following morning to explore the Historic Area at Colonial Williamsburg. As they approached the Governor’s Palace, Dan began to complain of pain in his chest and jaw.

Connie knew at once her husband needed medical attention. She found a nearby historical interpreter who was lecturing a group of visitors. He immediately called security, and a few minutes later, two Colonial Williamsburg security guards arrived on scene.

“They pulled up and got out of their car and asked what was going on, and about that quick my husband said, ‘I am going down’ and down he went,” Connie said.

The two officers — Donia Fowler and Matthew Kurfees — sprang into action. They retrieved an Automated External Defibrillator from their patrol car, flipped Dan onto his back and began to use the machine to try to restart his heart. Dan’s pulse returned for a moment before disappearing again.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity to Connie but was in actuality a couple of minutes, medics from the Williamsburg Fire Department arrived and took Dan to Riverside Doctors’ Hospital.

Now he is resting comfortably at the Stonesifer’s home in Pennsylvania.

“If it wouldn’t have been for [the historical interpreter] calling [security] and then for those two to actually have an AED in the security car, my husband wouldn’t have made it,” she said.

The AED and CPR provided by the security officers proved to be the difference, according to Dan’s doctors. Had the security officers not been equipped and trained to administer medical care, that morning in front of the Governor’s Palace likely would have ended much differently.

For Danny McDaniel, the director of security, safety and transportation at Colonial Williamsburg, the Stonesifer’s experience is an example of a well-oiled machine in action.

“Everything worked,” he said of his officers’ response to the incident.

McDaniel fields a security team consisting of officers who have all been trained and certified as first responders in Virginia.

“They’ve got 40 hours of first responder training, which is one step below EMT,” he said. “We also have a couple of officers who have their EMT certification.”

Connie and Dan Stonesifer
Connie and Dan Stonesifer

Those officers patrol the living history museum in cars equipped with an AED and a medical bag, with supplies like bandages, blood pressure cuffs and splints. They also carry juice for diabetics.

All of that is to equip the officers to both respond to basic medical issues like cuts and bee stings and to act as intermediaries in those crucial moments between the start of a major incident and the arrival of medics from one of the local fire departments.

McDaniel said his officers respond to 300 to 400 medical issues per year, most of which are routine issues like scrapes from falls.

“We also get a variety of medical issues — a lot of overheating, diabetics having particular issues,” he said. “You never know from one day or the next.”

For the Stonesifers, the officers went beyond their basic responsibilities. Dan was loaded in an ambulance and taken to Riverside Doctors’ Hospital for treatment, but Connie had no way of getting there from the Governor’s Palace. Officer Fowler drove her there so she could be with her  husband.

Colonial Williamsburg works closely with the local fire departments, which can connect patients like Dan to the care they need. After he was taken to the Doctors’ Hospital, he was airlifted to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, where he stayed in the intensive care unit for a few days before he was discharged July 10.

The other major tourist attractions in the Williamsburg area are also equipped with medical equipment and personnel to handle incidents.

Both Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center require historical interpreters and docents to be trained in basic first aid and CPR. AEDs are available at several locations in both museums, according to Homer Lanier, the interpretive program manager for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

“We can provide immediate help to folks if they’re having some kind of issue, and we can escalate it pretty quick if we need to get our friends at James City or York county EMS rolling,” he said.

The JYF museums most often see heat illnesses, scrapes and bee stings on guests. Inconspicuous radio equipment throughout the interpretive areas of the two museums allow staff members to quickly summon help in the event a guest requires aid.

“Nobody is having to run and find a telephone,” he said. “Everything goes pretty quick.”

Busch Gardens and Water Country USA each have a health services building staffed with a registered nurse whenever the parks are open to the public, said spokesman Kevin Crossett. In addition, there are two park vehicles equipped with advanced life support equipment, a combined 17 publicly accessible AEDs at park sites and an AED in each security vehicle.

Crossett declined to comment on what medical issues are most common at the parks, saying “Anytime you get thousands of people together, there are bound to be illnesses and accidents.  We are ready, willing and able to treat all of them.”