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Festivalgoers urged to stay hydrated, consume responsibly to avoid heatstroke

Spectators are asked to evacuate due to bad weather on the Plains of Abraham on Thursday, July 13, 2023 at the Festival d'été de Québec in Quebec City. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Jacques Boissinot Spectators are asked to evacuate due to bad weather on the Plains of Abraham on Thursday, July 13, 2023 at the Festival d'été de Québec in Quebec City. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Jacques Boissinot
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With festival season in full swing, festivalgooers are advised to stay hydrated and consume responsibly, as heatstroke and intoxication are among the most frequent paramedic interventions.

The type of intervention varies greatly according to the weather and the type of event: "When it's very hot, the number of interventions related to heatstroke, weakness, dizziness, will be very high," said Jean-Pierre Rouleau, spokesman for Urgences-santé, Quebec's largest ambulance service, which serves the Montreal and Laval regions.

For more family-oriented festivals, medical assistance is more related to traumatic injuries or weaknesses, he says. Events attracting a younger clientele could be associated with more cases of intoxication.

In 2023, at the Osheaga festival—a large gathering held at Montreal's Parc Jean-Drapeau—paramedics intervened in a dozen cases, including four that required hospitalization.

"It's clear that alcohol and drugs are often involved in this kind of event. We're always urging people to drink responsibly, but unfortunately, yes, at some events, Urgences-santé is called to deal with cases of intoxication," says Rouleau.

He advises festivalgoers who consume alcohol or drugs to do so responsibly, starting with hydration.

"Often, people who consume alcohol forget to rehydrate, and it's often too late. This can lead to dizziness, drowsiness or even unconsciousness," said the spokesman, adding that festivalgoers need to listen to their bodies:

"If people are not feeling well, [you shouldn't] wait. Maybe ask an onsite responder for assistance precisely to prevent a deterioration in their condition," he said.

At the FrancoFolies, a French-language festival held in Montreal's Quartier des spectacles, Urgences-santé had some 15 interventions in 2023 and eight in 2024.

Rouleau pointed out, however, that a perimeter is set for this festival, and that the data do not differentiate between a passerby crossing the street or a worker in an office tower in this sector requiring emergency assistance.

The same goes for the Jazz Festival, where paramedics have intervened five times to date. The festival ends on Saturday. In 2023, some 15 interventions have taken place within the defined quadrilateral.

Event organizers have their own first-aid units, says Rouleau. For example, the Jazz Festival hires a first-aid team that will contact the ambulance service only if it doesn't meet "the needs of the clientele, if there's an overflow, if it exceeds their capacity, or if there's an urgent situation."

Onsite patient access

"When called to an emergency, paramedics have to access a patient on a vast site with no clear landmarks, and access to the patient is a challenge at events, especially large gatherings," says Rouleau.

A team from Urgences-santé is also busy measuring the impact of different events on the number of resources to ensure that anticipated needs do not impact regular operations.

In the event of an emergency, paramedics work with the first-aid teams on site, trying to determine the most precise assembly point possible for providing assistance to victims. There are also tools available, such as a small vehicle that can be deployed on certain sites. This makes it easier to get through crowds.

Street closures are also a challenge for ambulance crews. They sometimes have to walk a longer distance to access a patient.

The Canadian Press health content is funded through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on July 6, 2024.  

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