Safety Tips from Burning Man's ER Doc

Drink water — and watch out for tent wires. Credit: Getty Images

 For the past three years, Dr. Jeff Westin has overseen Burning Man’s “emergency room,” a 2,000-square-foot tent called the Rampart, staffed with 100 medical professionals. During the weeklong event, some 70,000 half-naked Burners descend on Nevada’s Black Rock City (this year’s gathering is August 27 to September 4), and Westin’s team treats roughly 250 people a day, which is many times the visits for a town this size. As for the actual work? He describes it as “a different genre of medicine.” 

So are all your patients naked? 

The vast majority of people have some form of clothing on. It just might be pasties and thong shorts.

How common are overdoses? 

You’re more likely to get people tripping on the guide wires of tents than tripping on drugs. One percent of our complaints are drug-related.

What is a typical injury?  

Dehydration. A lot of people underestimate how much they need to drink on a daily basis. Also, the Playa is as hard as concrete. We see a lot of people simply because they fell off their bike.

What's the craziest injury? 

A few years ago, we had a piece of art called Coyote, which was 30 to 35 feet tall with a head that spun around, so when people were climbing up 20 to 30 feet, if they weren’t paying attention, its ears could come around and knock them off. You get things like that that you really won’t see anywhere else.” 

What's your safety advice for a virgin burner? 

Go with a veteran. The more experienced Burners — some of them have been going for 20 years — we generally don’t see them very much.