MARICOPA — John Mulquin had just dropped off a camper with a twisted ankle when he was driving his golf cart back to the Country Thunder venue and saw a man tiredly pushing someone in a wheelchair down the unpaved road.
Mulquin stopped to ask the man where he was heading. The man said he was going to the concert venue, which was a sizable distance away. Mulquin wasn’t about to let that happen, so he told the two people to pack the wheelchair in the golf cart and get a ride, likely saving them a load of energy as the temperatures continue to rise.
Such is life for the volunteers of the city of Maricopa’s Community Emergency Response Team during the four days of Country Thunder. The Maricopa team takes on a leadership role during the festival in Florence, with shifts of 10 people at a time spread out around the massive festival grounds.
Their three main duties are to transport people with disabilities, aid the medical unit on small-scale cases and — in something new for this year — to assist with the landing zone for helicopters. The last one has only had to be used twice as of Sunday afternoon, once for a seizure and the other for an ATV rollover that actually took place off-site.
“Those people are a joy,” said CERT member Bill Robertson. “They love what we do. They love the assistance we give so they don’t have to walk as far.”
As they drive by, they are always asked for a ride by festivalgoers. In fact, Robertson imagines they could make some decent money out of it. But that’s not why they are there. They’re there to help those who need them.
The volunteers work tirelessly from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. to help out whenever they are needed. A bulk of their work is with transportation, taking people from their parking spot or campsites to the venue before the music starts, and picking them up after the concert ends to bring them back.
But they do have to spend time in the medical tent assisting with the smaller injuries or health problems that come up. Robertson said there have been a lot of twisted ankles this year compared to those in years past. There’s never any rhyme or reason to such a thing, though.
One thing that seems certain, though, is that this year’s Country Thunder was much calmer than last year, which Mulquin said was “rowdier” than before. There’s no clear explanation why this is, whether it’s because of the nicer weather or something else, but the CERT volunteers are happy with how everything went, and how everybody treated them.
Besides three members of the CERT team from Oracle, the group from Maricopa is the only one working Country Thunder. This has meant that a couple of people have had to spend the night to make sure there’s around-the-clock coverage in case anything major happens. Nothing of the sort has, but they need to be prepared, just like they do in Maricopa. in fact, Robertson said this event helps them better serve their own community.
“This almost serves as an annual drill for us,” Robertson said. “It involved weeks and weeks of planning. We have to figure out logistics, we have to assign shifts, learn how to use radios. They have to interact with other agencies. Imagine if a flood came through Maricopa, and all these agencies had to respond. It’s just the same thing, but with less chaos here. It allows us to practice all these skills.”
Next year, there will be more help on the way. Maricopa CERT is helping the town of Florence start its own program, which would naturally fit in with its hometown festival. But the folks from Maricopa vow to continue to play their part in making Country Thunder safe and enjoyable for everyone.
“It’s a well-oiled organization,” Robertson said. “Everything has been smooth.”