1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers

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1996 San Francisco Bay to Breakers

A day in the life of a volunteer to the Bay to Breakers footrace in words and pictures. The day was 19 May 1996.

The San Francisco Bay to Breakers is one of the world's largest footraces, and almost certainly the world's largest highly mobile costume party. Each spring thousands of folks dress up and run, job, and walk from the "bay" (the San Francisco Bay at the east edge of the city) to the "breakers" (the Pacific Ocean at the west edge of the city).

And each spring I volunteer with the San Francisco chapter of the American Red Cross to provide emergency medical care and communications. This year I did both, my Emergency Medical Technician and a amateur "ham" radio licenses being current.

early morning cab rideA volunteer's day begins early, too early. I'm up long before dawn, trying to get dressed and make it out the door before I really wake up. Last night I worked my way down two inventory lists, testing and packing my "communicator's kit" (two ham radios, batteries, headset, and airport ear protectors), my "medic's kit" (favorite lime green stethoscope, surgical tape, extra large latex gloves, etc.), and my "San Francisco resident's kit" (clothes for warm, clothes for cold, clothes for in-between; layers, layers, layers).

At 0430 I'm in a taxi, driving from my home in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco to the Red Cross headquarters. It's dark out, and I think I may have woken up the taxicab dispatcher.

The scene is controlled chaos. Volunteers congregate in the designated rooms, enjoying the hot coffee and prepared breakfast boxes. At 0500 calories are calories, nobody is too particular. We also are given a backpack with lunch. In recent years vegetarians have been thought of. A general volunteer briefing begins. Welcome to this year's event. Thank you for volunteering. Mention of the current operating organizational hierachy. Introductions. Today's timetable. Biohazard precautions briefing. On to specialized briefings.

The Communicators Briefing and the Medics Briefing take place simultaneously, and I've sat through both, but in recent years I've been a senior volunteer and hence a team leader. I start with one and run to the other in time to pick up my team.

The communicators start each year by picking up the list of operating frequencies and ensuring that last night's programming of the radio's presets wasn't for naught. (They do tell us the freqs ahead of time, but everything is subject to change without much notice.) Every year one member of the San Francisco Amateur Radio Club (SFARC) comes in late, radios unprogrammed, and completely disrupts the proceedings. But it's a tradition.

Communicators briefing
Medics briefingThe Medics Briefing is much more subdued than the geek-fest I just left. Approved medical procedures and protocols. Medical Central. How to work with your designated Communicator. How to interoperate with the professional crews that will be called in to support us and transport patients to the hospitals.

There are two kinds of medical teams, fixed and mobile. The fixed teams work at one of the aid stations, one of the Red Cross trucks parked at a known locations about three-quarters of a mile apart. Between the fixed teams roam the MATs, the Mobile Assistance Teams, two Medics and one Communicator. (This year, because I was certified as both, our team would have three medics.)

It's time to get to the racecourse. We leave the building and pile into two waiting busses, one for the east half of the course, the other for the west half. Of course, the same Communicator who each year is screwing with her radio is also the one who either gets on the wrong bus or is lost somewhere in the building. This (and other delays) prevent us from leaving before 0700.

Traffic is still nonexistant. We zip through a sleeping city, never tangling with the hundred thousand runners massed at the Embarcadero.

on the bus

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