Safety Tips from Burning Man’s ER Doc

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Drink water — and watch out for tent wires.  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.