Hi Reddit! My name is Jim Bollenbacher, and after years of working as a corporate lawyer in Chicago I became an EMT and later a Paramedic -- and now spend my summers working at music festivals around the country.

Festivals are chaotic, and people seem to lose all sense of reason when they are there -- so as a medic you’re out in the middle of a field with a million people around you, you’ve got limited supplies, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen. You can read a few my favorite porta-potty stories (yes, there are many) in MEL Magazine, or order my book, Molly Mushrooms & Mayhem, for which all proceeds go to the First Responders Children's Foundation.

I'm happy to answer your questions about the crazy stuff I've seen working at music festivals, the important role EMTs and Paramedics play at music festivals and society at large, and anything else that comes to mind. AMA!

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/m7xpdajm7wy81.jpg

Thank you to everyone who joined and asked questions. If you want to read more on this topic my book, Molly, Mushrooms & Mayhem is available on Amazon. All proceeds go to charity supporting first responders. Also, please thank the first responders you see at your next music festival or elsewhere. They work hard, see horrible things, and make very little money. Thanks again, be safe!

Comments: 222 • Responses: 50  • Date: 

eveningsand96 karma

Besides staying hydrated, as Paramedic what's the next best piece of advice you'd give to people attending these festivals?

WeAreMEL182 karma

Hydration is huge. And if you are going to use drugs, please please please test them first to be sure you know what they are.

franklyokay61 karma

hi! what's the funniest drug-related incident you've encountered?

WeAreMEL182 karma

A young woman thought I was her father. Because I was older I guess it triggered her. She kept apologizing and asking not to be grounded. She also pulled out a bag of pills from her bra and told us she didn't need them anymore!

freshgrilled18 karma

Did you keep them and test them as part of your parental duties?

WeAreMEL5 karma

Most festivals have an amnesty box where drugs go and are properly disposed of. None get turned in to law enforcement, at least at the ones I have worked.

Suspicious-Camel48844 karma

What do you think of Zendo Project, PsyCare and other psychedelic harm reduction initiatives?

Do you think the kind of psychological support they provide should be part of EMT training?

WeAreMEL3 karma

EMT's and paramedics get a small amount of that training, but it is pretty specialized. I am glad to have those experts around to handle those issues.

endtelegram49 karma

was there a festival or event that was way worse than you expected? one that was chiller/easier?

WeAreMEL160 karma

Burning Man was much different than I expected. As an older guy I wasn't sure it was going to be my vibe, but it was really fantastic. Such an open and friendly atmosphere with good people from all walks of life. I came away really surprised and moved by that event. It also isn't the druggie/naked people stereotype. Very cool.

summertime_fine44 karma

craziest injury you've encountered?

WeAreMEL99 karma

Lot's of broken collarbones at Burning Man. And tragically people die sometimes. Most of the time it's medical issues rather than trauma

hythloth23 karma

Why collarbones?

WeAreMEL4 karma

That year the one wheel electric skateboards were very popular. Lot's of people fell of them and the collarbone took the brunt of their fall. People also fall off the art exhibits.

Robert_A_Bouie40 karma

This really intrigues me so thank you for posting it. I'm a 53 Y.O. professional (CPA) who is considering doing something else with my life in a couple more years. I was a volunteer firefighter for many years in my teens and 20's and am considering getting back into that along with being an EMT. How long did it take you to complete your training and is your specific job hard to break-in to or is there a lot of demand for it? I still go to music festivals and enjoy observing, so getting paid to be there and help people at the same time sounds like a really cool job.

WeAreMEL70 karma

I encourage people to follow their heart and do what they enjoy. Not always easy or practical. I was in a good position financially so I could retire early and do something that I felt really good about. Very blessed to be in that position. EMT class is about 13 weeks, a couple days a week depending on the school. Paramedic class is about a year, again depending on the school. I started Paramedic class at 60, so don't let age hold you back!

Steelstrike30929 karma

How often do you have to restrain/attend to people that run into the temple burn?

WeAreMEL47 karma

As far as I know that has happened only once. I was not there but a friend was. Very tragic.

franklyokay27 karma

Why do you like so much about being a music festival medic? What keeps you going back?

WeAreMEL60 karma

I really enjoy the atmosphere at the festivals. I was hired after EMT class by an event medical company and was introduced to it that way. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It gives me a chance to use my skills in a very unusual environment. And there is a mix of situations that I encounter at every event. It's work and a party at the same time!

franklyokay7 karma

thats great! have you stayed friends with anyone you've met or helped at a festival?

WeAreMEL29 karma

I have made friends with people I work with. They tend to show up over and over at festivals. I have met a few patients in the medical tent after they recovered and chatted with them but never went past that. It would be nice though. Usually great people.

BoydsWillBeBoyds25 karma

how many questions will be asked here before someone asks you where to score shrooms?

WeAreMEL50 karma

I don't know and I don't know!

Con_Johnson23 karma

What drug would you say causes the most problems?

WeAreMEL71 karma

Mushrooms. I don't understand them, and they seem to have unpredictable outcomes. I might just not understand them. People can overdo the Molly as well which can be a problem if not very well hydrated. Can cause seizures. I took care of a woman just like that in the middle of the crowd at a Bass Nectar show. It was an advenure.

NocturnalPermission23 karma

Longtime burner here, and actually one who attends without anything harder than PBR in my system. I just wanted to say thank you for the compassionate oversight you and the other EMTs and Black Rock Rangers deliver on playa every year. I’ve transported quite a few injured, dehydrated and loopy burners to y’all’s stations over the years.

You could also mention the generous work of Zendo on playa, who provide dedicated spaces and specialists trained to assist people having problematic drug experiences (notably with psychedelics).

Finally, I mention my own tame indulgence as counterpoint to the sensationalized media portrayal of BM as drug-fueled orgy. You create your own burn, and there are certainly many people who are partying hard and I don’t judge. However in my experience the majority of attendees aren’t hitting it that hard. Perhaps you could speak about your own observations of the spectrum of partying on playa?

WeAreMEL18 karma

Yes, the rumors of drug fueled orgies didn't come true when I was there. I'm sure there are people having interesting experiences, but for the most part its very calm and almost family friendly. ALMOST! And Zendo and other groups do a great job dealing with any crisis in a very compassionate way. So much kindness on display there.

MasterpieceEmpty944123 karma

Is Narcan or Naloxone amassed in small amounts, adequate amounts, or large amounts for these events?

WeAreMEL86 karma

I get this question a lot. I have given Narcan only once, and that is only because we just didn't know what was going on. Narcan is for opiods, which are downers. The drugs used at these festivals are party drugs, uppers. So Narcan isn't needed. Usually we need to sedate a patient rather than wake them up. But again, test your drugs so we don't have to give narcan as a result of contamination.

GandalfDGreenery22 karma

What's the most amazingly stupid situation you ever encountered?

And have you seen anything since being a paramedic that's changed your life?

WeAreMEL135 karma

Seeing the young people having so much fun at festivals and being incredibly inclusive and open has been an amazing eye opener for me. I really love that aspect. There are some dumb things that occur mostly in the zeal to have fun. Porta potties are often involved. In my book there is an entire chapter on patients we find in them. I did have a patient who told me a guy in the crowd told him to open his mouth and stick out his tongue. When he did the guy put a small sticker on his tongue and now he felt weird. I asked the guy if he had ever done LSD, and when he said he hadn't I told him he had now!

reedbasket19 karma

How would you summarise the shift if any in your perception of people throughout your experiences as a festival EMT?

WeAreMEL128 karma

I have become much more open minded to people who don't look like me, or have different outlooks on life. I was a fairly conservative lawyer/business executive, suit and tie type. But I have met so many people with tattoo's all over, lots of piercings, dreadlocks, etc who are really great people. It has really opened my eyes to more than "my type". It has also changed my views on drugs, partying, and the younger generation. All for the better.

I_am_a_pom14 karma

You probably see a lot of drug related misadventure. How do you feel about recreational drug legalisation broadly? Do you think legalisaton, regulation and education would make drug taking safer or do you think it would compound the dangers?

WeAreMEL89 karma

My views on this have changed dramatically. I don't advocate illegal drug use, but I understand why people use them at festivals. Used responsibly i have no problem with them. I do strongly advocate for you to test them before you use them. I also think festivals should allow testing kits to be distributed onsite.
And don't tell anyone...but I want to try Molly and acid. Keep that a secret!

NerdWithWit1 karma

Lucky for you this whole internet thing hasn’t really caught on yet so not too many people will see your secret 😃

WeAreMEL2 karma

I'm sure it will stay anonymous!

Beakersoverflowing14 karma

If you had to pick one observation to be of the most societal significance, what would that be?

Ex: are there any common festival behaviors you think should change?

WeAreMEL95 karma

I have three: 1. When an artist comes on stage, take two steps back, not forward. This avoids the problem of getting crushed we saw in Texas; 2. Don't touch that woman in front of you. It's illegal and creepy; 3. Don't keep your cell phone in the back packet of your shorts. People steal them by the hundreds.

Beakersoverflowing17 karma


First one seems very wise. The second two are great pieces of advice for anyone anywhere. But of course emphasized in such a densely packed event.

I wonder how difficult it would be to rewire people's urge to compress toward the stage. Seems like quite a task.

WeAreMEL89 karma

One band at Lollapalooza in Chicago made an announcement at the start of their show. Told everyone to take two steps back and also if they saw guys fondling women they would stop the show and call them out. Mad props to them. More artists should adopt that.

Chunkycarl33 karma

When I saw Rage against the machine In 2009 they did this- mad respect to them, they could have saved lives and certainly saved some injury (As someone who cracked 2 ribs on the barrier for front row iron maiden it’s not a pleasant experience). Glad to hear more bands do this and safety is considered

WeAreMEL12 karma

Yes, glad you are ok. It is very scary for people in that crush.

GleamLaw12 karma

For Burning Man, I know you can get helicopter insurance in case you need to get medevaced. How do I get this insurance to fly me INTO Burning Man instead of out of?

WeAreMEL16 karma

Ha, wouldn't that be nice! I was there for pre-burn so getting in was no problem. But I know its a huge line on Saturday night. You can fly in but it's very $$$

GleamLaw3 karma

EA/WAP are always the way to go, but a chopper sounds like the most fun.
Plane tix are currently around $600 each way from Reno. Tickets went on sale this week.

WeAreMEL5 karma

Getting to Reno, no problem. Getting onto the Playa is trickier. But the air flight off the Playa is not one you want to take!

GleamLaw2 karma

Why not?

WeAreMEL17 karma

because it means you are very sick or hurt and are being transported to the trauma center in Reno!

kelly-golightly12 karma

Any funny situations that you’ve seen someone in at a festival?

WeAreMEL29 karma

Too many to count! That is what prompted me to write my book. Naked guys running around in a campground, a guy on mushrooms talking to his imaginary friend in the medical tent, a guy pouring a bucket of his vomit in his lap...you really see it all doing this work!

2cats2hats11 karma

after years of working as a corporate lawyer in Chicago I became an EMT

What made you leave the law profession?

WeAreMEL25 karma

I moved into corporate leadership and stopped actively practicing. Just opportunities to something different. Law is a tough profession these days.

GleamLaw3 karma

There was a time it wasn't a tough profession?

WeAreMEL18 karma

Yes, when I started back in the dark ages clients tended to stay with law firms and you got to really know them. Now working for firms is more like a job shop. It's always been a hard job, but I think less rewarding now. Depends on what type of lawyer you are as well.

2cats2hats5 karma

In your opinion is there a "glut" of lawyers?

WeAreMEL17 karma

Yes, which makes it challenging for new graduates trying to get jobs. Too many young adults go deep in debt and then can't find good jobs when they graduate. But there is always room for good lawyers.

thejohnblog11 karma

Have you tended to or had any great run ins with well know musical artists with a great story behind it?

WeAreMEL47 karma

Not really. I had a great meeting with Mick Jaggers cardiologist before a concert and have seen a few artists getting high backstage. But they are pretty well protected from outsiders, even us. I had a really cool discussion with Taylor Swifts security team leader. Very nice guy who was extremely prepared for anything. It was right after the Las Vegas festival shootings. That was eye opening.

bakebreadsmokedope5 karma

How was the crowd at the Taylor Swift concert?

WeAreMEL18 karma

Cold. It was unusually cool in Chicago and many came dressed like her. There is a name for them, I just don't recall. So they were cold. But in general the crowd was very good. As I recall not too many problems medically.

bakebreadsmokedope11 karma

Swifties 😜

I imagine it was super fun

WeAreMEL14 karma

Yes, thank you. Swifties. Fun for me, not for them. they shivered their way through the concert. Taylor was very good though!

umikumi9 karma

Do you ever party at the festivals in your down time?

WeAreMEL30 karma

No, I am usually too tired at the end of my shift and crash in bed. I do know some younger nurses and medics that enjoy the music and have been known to have a good time after their shift ends! But under the right circumstances I could be tempted!

OutdoorSandwich9 karma

Is there a genre of music that tends to lead to more injuries than others?

WeAreMEL40 karma

I don't think so in my experience. I will say that I enjoy EDM festivals much more than others. Less alcohol involved which usually means less vomiting. Some of the mosh pits get pretty crazy and can cause injuries but those patients usually get fixed up and go right back in!

-Blixx-8 karma

What is the sexiest sex injury you've ever attended to at a festival?

WeAreMEL42 karma

Havent had that experience yet, though we did have a young woman who was experiencing multiple orgasms as she rode on the medical golf cart. You could hear her screaming over the radio broadcast. we thought she was angry. Nope! I have seen a young woman who was raped at a festival. That was perhaps the worst thing I have witnessed. Truly awful

-Blixx-11 karma

I appreciate the time you took to answer the question. The bad did not outweigh the good.

Stay safe and keep helping people.

WeAreMEL9 karma

Thank you.

stinkpipe_787 karma

What music do you enjoy?

WeAreMEL37 karma

My music tastes are pretty old fashioned but I have learned to like more recent stuff. The Killers were really good at my first festival. and there was a rap band that I liked but can't remember their name. EDM isn't really my thing but the artists are very talented.

Elbynerual20 karma

there was a rap band

Run The Jewels? They do a bunch of festivals and they have some real catchy stuff.

WeAreMEL35 karma

Yes! Thank you. They are also the band to tell everyone to take two steps back. They were good.

stefaniki7 karma

Is there a period of time where it's slow, but you know it's almost time for the (insert drug/situation) rush? Some jobs are steadily busy all day. Some have periods of intense activity followed by a lull. Is it like that for you or do you recognize patterns?

WeAreMEL12 karma

There are definitely slow periods. I work overnight when possible. So about an hour after the music stops we start to get busy in campgrounds! Thats when the fun happens. There are also some artists who tend to have more calls during their shows for some reason so we pre-plan for those. But mostly it's unpredictable.

Individual-Trade7565 karma

Could you name a few of the artists whose fans are more likely to need a medic?

WeAreMEL3 karma

Yes, but I won't. I don't think it's the artists fault so I don't want to create any bad juju for them.

safeincanada6 karma

Hey Jim, thanks for doing this AMA.

What kind of porta-potty misadventures have you witnessed?

WeAreMEL25 karma

Well, as I mentioned, these stories take up an entire chapter in my book. People tend to go to the bathroom/porta potties when they don't feel well so we get called there for sick people a lot. But there are all sorts of others stories, from a guy fishing around in the muck looking for his sunglasses that turns out were on his head, to the woman passed out on the floor of a large one and was so slippery with "stuff" that our hands kept slipping off her. We needed a blanket under her to lift her up. They are the least favorite call of every event medic!

Thick-Nebula-27714 karma

Burning Man must be a tough one, how do you navigate it and what are the logistics there overall?

WeAreMEL25 karma

The company that handles medical does a great job of taking care of us. We have a place to sleep and they feed us as long as we are working. We even get to shower. So for me it was pretty easy. The biggest issue is the dust. If you have been there you know it gets everywhere. But meeting the patients more than makes up for it.

ringpopproposal5 karma

I accompanied a camp mate to medical at BM once (she acquired a UTI) and all of the med staff were so kind and friendly. It’s a harsh environment, but the team were cool as cucumbers. I was so thankful to witness the dedication y’all have. I’m sure it can get pretty stressful at times, but no one let it show. Thanks for doing what you do!

WeAreMEL2 karma

Glad you had a good experience. Tons of UTI's thanks to dryness and drinking less fluid. Breathing issues like asthma was popular as well. And everyone I worked with in the medical tent was awesome!

ALemonadeMaker4 karma

Thoughts on weed?

WeAreMEL32 karma

Other than I like it? I went to college and law school in the 70's!

My personal view is that it should be legalized, and will be eventually. Like anything, use it responsibly. But I have had only one call for a weed OD and that was for a mistake taking medical marijuana. Hundreds of calls for too much alcohol.

ALemonadeMaker8 karma

I am just a looooongtime festival goer (last big one was burning man 2016) who just enjoyed to toke up for most of it. No alcohol anymore even. I’ve seen crackdowns on it before but I’ve also come to realize a lot of those who work in this industry tend to be more educated and objective on the topic especially nowadays. Which you definitely seem to be! Appreciate you answering the question was just completely curious!

WeAreMEL7 karma

My pleasure, thanks for asking. Be safe!

Hurizen4 karma

You say "test the drug first". How?

WeAreMEL27 karma

There are drug test kits that you can buy inexpensively. They will test the purity of the drug and tell you if any fentanyl or other harmful contaminants are in it.

TheIronMatron4 karma

Should I take the brown acid?

WeAreMEL10 karma

I hear the blue pill is better. But as long as you test it first...I have no idea!

Subaudible913 karma


Longtime attendee of EF here, so it’s cool to see someone that’s worked the event here. Will we be seeing you in Rothbury this year?

WeAreMEL13 karma

I will be there. I love that festival!

TechnoGeek4232 karma

Jim, thanks for your service. Can you comment on two things?

  1. Sunburn. We’ll be at Windy City Smokeout this summer and I’m concerned about sun burn.
  2. Hearing damage. How prevalent is it? Are earplugs recommended? Also, can you work with the promoters on sometimes turning down the volume? I’ve seen huge speaker racks literally right above information stands. Can’t imagine it’s good for the staff working them or people there.

WeAreMEL2 karma

Well, lotion, lotion, lotion. If you forget it, the medical tents often have some for you. I can't speak to hearing issues other than it makes sense to me that you could sustain some if you are in the loud environment for a long time. But that's outside my area. When we are by the stage we wear hearing protection.

Megatherion6661 karma

Do you go only to festivals where you like content (music, etc)? Or you don’t care?

WeAreMEL2 karma

I go to festivals where I think the medical tent will be the most interesting and fun. EDM is that for me!