Among a sea of spectators, an emergency room nurse in a bright red shirt stood at the finish line, where he greeted participants in Sunday’s Dirty Half trail race.
This weekend marked the first year in which the Dirty Half — a half marathon in its 12th year staged on trails and roads west of Bend — was staffed by emergency room nurses (seven of them) and an ER doctor. The medical personnel volunteer with a program called Racing to the Rescue, an affiliate of the Central Oregon Chapter of the Emergency Nurses Association.
The local nonprofit organization was formed last year in response to the death of a runner during the 2012 Dirty Half. That runner, Billy Tufts, of Bend, was believed to have suffered a heart attack.
Midway through the race, Tufts collapsed along a remote trail. According to a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office news release following the incident, two deputies ran 4 miles with an automated external defibrillator (AED) — a portable device that checks heart rhythm and can send electric shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm — before reaching the fallen runner.
Tufts may have survived if medical personnel had been able to reach him sooner with the AED, according to Darin Durham, director of emergency services at St. Charles Bend and a member of Racing to the Rescue.
Regardless, the death prompted Durham — along with other members of the nurses association — to take action.
“The Dirty Half was the last straw," Durham said. “We said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’ "
Last fall Durham, along with several other nurses, founded Racing to the Rescue. Since then, the local organization has provided staff for emergency and other medical services at popular Central Oregon races such as Heaven Can Wait, the Pole Pedal Paddle, and the Sisters Stampede bike race.
At Sunday’s Dirty Half, nurses were assigned to different spots on the 13.1-mile course — some dispatched to the race’s four designated aid stations, others positioned at the finish area. Three portable AEDs donated by the St. Charles Foundation were available at the race site, including one strategically located near the course’s halfway mark in the Deschutes National Forest.
Each nurse also carried a radio and a cellphone to contact emergency medical services if needed, and some were equipped with bicycles or motorcycles for speedier response.
“We focus on off-road trail events that are difficult to access by ambulances," noted Jeremy Buller, a nurse at St. Charles and president-elect of the nurses association’s local chapter. “We are out there to bridge the races and emergency medical services."
No medical emergencies were reported during this year’s Dirty Half, according to race director Dave Thomason.
But with temperatures in the 70s and dry conditions, Buller said nurses were on the lookout for runners struggling with dehydration or heat exhaustion, and for those with minor injuries such as scrapes and strained muscles.
Thomason said he was thankful for the presence of Racing to the Rescue at his event.
“These guys make (race) safety even tighter," he said. “It’s an organization that the community should support."