PINEDALE – One month from today on Monday, Aug. 21, Sublette County will likely look a little different than usual at this point in time. The August date will be the first time since 1979 that a total solar eclipse will occur in the contiguous United States. The path of totality also just happens to be crossing right through Sublette County.
The rarity of such an event and the narrow corridor that folks will have to place themselves in to actually see a total solar eclipse could mean a large influx of visitors heading into this area.
Since the total solar eclipse will be visible just north of Pinedale, local first responders are doing everything in their power to be prepared.
At Wednesday’s regular Sublette County Rural Health Care District (RHCD) meeting, EMS director Bill Kluck updated the board about planning they’ve done to ensure responders are as ready as they can be.
“It’s a pretty big deal for the state,” Kluck said. “The state has come out with possible numbers of doubling the population of Wyoming.”
The EMS director has met with local agencies monthly for around six months to discuss how to make the incursion of so many additional folks in Sublette County go smoothly – if possible.
“We’ve been hashing out plans,” he said. “Nobody will really stand up and give us a number. We’re looking an influx of about 30,000 people into Sublette County. It could be more – it could be less. Pray for rain.”
What makes Wyoming attractive to out-of-state visitors for such an event is the state’s weather history, which is dominated by sunny mornings and cloudy afternoons.
Since the eclipse is slated to occur at 9:36 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 21, this increases watchers’ odds of having a clear view.
“That’s why I think you’re going to see a lot of people here,” Kluck noted. “Right now, there is no housing here.”
Rooms in Jackson and Big Piney are full for that time frame, and Rock Springs is sitting at 70-percent full.
In addition, he said monthly meetings are held with medical clinic personnel for the past four months to get plans rolling.
“We’re going to plan for as much as we can,” he said. “Once we do run out of our resources, we have plans to get resources from the south.”
South Lincoln County EMS will be covering LaBarge from Aug. 17 through 26, as Sublette County simply won’t be able to handle the additional community as they typically do. Kluck noted that other EMS departments are offering ambulances if local responders need them.
“We’re just kind of planning ahead,” he added. “We’re not the only ones that are kind of beefing our resources up.”
The Forest Service (FS) is bringing in extra fire units, along with extra staff. Additional staff will also be brought here for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Sublette County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP).
“Any entity out here that’s a service is going to be putting on a lot of staffing for the influx,” he said. “Everybody is helping out and volunteering. I think we have a great bunch of people that are saying, ‘If you need help, just give me a call.’ That’s going to help us out a lot.”
Kluck then went into his plan, which includes having four ambulances staffed for the week of Aug. 18 through Aug. 25. Two full-staffed ambulances will sit in Big Piney, while the other two will be in Pinedale.
On Aug. 21, he figures traffic will be chaotic, so an ambulance will be moved to Daniel an hour or two before the eclipse to cover the Bondurant area, while another ambulance will be stationed in Kendall Valley.
By working with SCSO Sheriff KC Lehr, the plan is to have the SCSO, FS and BLM working to keep roadways clear.
The reason for beefing up EMS staff, Kluck noted, is because St. John’s Memorial Hospital in Jackson will not be accepting patients for that week.
“There is no way we could drive through Jackson, let alone take an emergency through Jackson,” he said. “This is going to add a lot of miles and time for us. We’re either going to have to go to Alpine, Kemmerer, Evanston, Rock Springs or some place further – Salt Lake City or Idaho.”
In terms of airships to transfer emergency patients out, Kluck has had no luck bringing in any extra.
“I called all the companies that I know, that we deal with here,” he said. “They all refused to stage here. I called them all.”
Board member Wendy Boman asked about potentially using Tip Top Search and Rescue’s (TTSAR) helicopter or a FS helicopter to fill the void.
“The one we have now works great,” he responded. “They are not classified as a transfer ship, so by law, they cannot transfer a patient. They can short-haul them to a waiting ambulance where we can transfer them, but that is all we can do.”
The main areas expected to see a large influx of eclipse watchers include Hoback Basin, Bondurant, the Sawtooth Mountains, Union Pass and Green River Lakes.
“BLM and Forest Service is planning on every piece of flat ground to have a camper or tent on it,” he said. “We got hiking groups that are from Georgia or wherever at sea level that are going to come up here and go up on Gannett (Peak). They think they’re going to get up to the highest point in Wyoming and watch the eclipse. So, we’re expecting the helicopter to be busy.”
To help assist folks up in Kendall Valley, the BLM and FS will set up first-aid stations and check points in remote areas expected to be hard hit by visitors, in hopes that people will go to these stations to be picked up, rather than call first responders to find them. This is because visitors are unlikely to know where they are once out in the landscape.
“If a person does has an emergency up there, our problem is going to be getting to them or finding them,” Kluck noted. “I’m trying to get people to go to the checkpoint stations where I can get to them. I’m hoping that all works out.”
In addition, he will map out remote areas a week or two beforehand, as he doesn’t think it is possible to get an ambulance up Union Pass Road.
“If I have to get an officer to take one of my EMTs up to Union Pass to bring a person out in a pickup truck, I will,” he said. “I will get to them somehow.”
Kluck used this year’s Green River Rendezvous to compare the people rolling into town for the total solar eclipse. Rendezvous brought between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors, with EMS receiving 24 calls during a three-day period. He expects the eclipse event to be 10 times worse.
The max for the Pinedale Medical Clinic would be four critical patients at any given time and if at capacity, patients would have to be diverted elsewhere – the Marbleton Medical Clinic during the day, or a farther hospital. This would add extra transport time that EMS needs to keep in mind, Kluck noted.
In terms of cost, RHCD might see a price tag of $30,000 or $1 per person to cover the eclipse, according to RHCD finance officer Lorraine Gatzke.
Overall, Kluck encouraged the audience to prepare for many unknown issues that might arise throughout that week.
“I think it’s going to be a mess,” he said. “We’re planning to do the best we can. Get your groceries, fill your tanks, get everything you need before that week. I feel people are going to be running out of stuff.”
For a full recap on the regular RHCD meeting, check out Tuesday’s Sublette Examiner.