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RWJ Hospital Reportedly Ran Out of Beds as Alcohol Overdoses Overwhelmed Hub City First Responders

County Office of Emergency Management Contacted During Ambulance Shortage on Halloween Night, Creating Need to "Triage" Patients at Rutgers Student Center
RWJ Ambulance
The city's fleet of ambulances were overwhelmed Friday as Halloween took its toll on New Brunswick. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Halloween night fell on a Friday this year, casting a spell that negatively impacted public safety as large crowds roamed the streets of New Brunswick, and a number of  alcohol overdoses overwhelmed hospitals and ambulance services near the main campus of Rutgers University.

It was not uncommon to hear reports of unconscious, and sometimes bleeding individuals, lying somewhere in New Brunswick or Piscataway, where Rutgers hosts five different campuses, waiting for an ambulance.

Middlesex County's Office of Emergency Management confirmed that they were contacted and eventually provided an "ambulance bus," but referred all questions to the New Brunswick Police Department, who did not respond.

While police broke up house parties and investigated assaults and a "road rage" shooting, ambulances struggled to respond to numerous reports of intoxicated individuals waiting for medical attention in residence halls and on front porches, or in some cases, passed out in backyards or city streets.

Rutgers buses were taken out of service to clean up vomit and repair broken windows, according to emergency radio transmissions. Long before the last bus home, the nation's largest university transportation system was suffering from severe overcrowding.

The transmissions describe some amusing moments that caused first responders to chuckle, like rowdy students crowding streets on the school's Busch campus and attempting to steal street signs, and an astonishing number of calls on Rutgers housing staff to clean up "vomit situations."

But the night also saw a slew of far more serious situations, ranging from car crashes to alcohol overdoses, robberies, violent assaults, and even a shooting near the outskirts of town, marring what was otherwise a fun evening for thousands of college students, local residents, and visitors.

Most of these incidents went unreported to the public, as the wild night only garnered a single "crime alert" from Rutgers University and no official press releases from the New Brunswick Police Department.

Pedestrians were struck at least twice by cars and once by someone on a bicycle throughout the course of the night, but alcohol overdoses were by far the most common call that first responders were sent to.

Ambulances were "stacking" ten or more calls at a time, leading to long wait times for people in need of help, and one of the city's hospitals ran out of beds.

An intoxicated individual was "laid out in the street by George and Commercial."  By the time help arrived twenty minutes later, the scene was clear.

In one case, police waited with an alcohol overdose victim for over 30 minutes as ambulances struggled to meet the demand.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, located in the Fifth Ward of New Brunswick, reached maximum capacity, according to the transmissions, and transports took patients to nearby St. Peter's University Hospital instead.

A spokesperson for the hospital has not responded to questions from New Brunswick Today about Halloween night.

"St Peter's reporting only three beds at this time.  We may have to start transporting to further hospitals," said a dispatcher at 12:51am, indicating that JFK Hospital in Edison would be the next best option.

As 2am approached, the "bed status" was carefully documented over the airwaves: "Robert Wood has three criticals, five non-criticals. St. Peter's has two critical, zero non-critical," said the official.

"If we have any additional patients from there, they are probably going to be treated at JFK."

Meanwhile, as the night rolled on, authorities kept watch over a growing number of inebriated "patients" waiting for ambulances in a "triage" area at the Rutgers Student Center that has not been fully been explained.

At one point, a public employee whose role is not immediately clear says he is corralling "four or five" intoxicated individuals and waiting with them in near the building's multi-purpose room.

"Yet another [intoxicated individual] is going to be near the atrium in the student center. We're going to relocate to the vending machines," said the worker later in the morning.

"We'll start a casualty collection plan inside," said another voice.

Eventually it seems the "triage" was moved to the area where the student center hangs over top of Morrell Street.

 Rutgers spokesperson Greg Trevor has only said so far that it is "not true" that the student center was used as "a drunk tank," in response to a question from this reporter.

"I think it's something I need to look into," said New Brunswick's Fire Director and Emergency Management Coordinator Robert Rawls, who was not involved in the decision-making process related to the overwhelmed hospitals and ambulances.

"That was Friday, I wasn't on duty, and my computers are being worked on at the moment," said Rawls at first.

"Not sure if [Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital] involved us on that. I don't have anything on that," Rawls said. "It's not anything we would file a report on."

"I would have to get the details of what actually happened. So now I would have to get it from someone else," Rawls continued. "I wouldn't make a conclusion."

After the bars let out at 2am, two crashes and a report of a shooting came in quick succession.

While police and emergency responders set up at the scene of a two-car crash on George Streeet near Commercial Avenue at about that time, another report of a crash, this one at 227 Powers Street, came in shortly thereafter.

Minutes later, North Brunswick police called New Brunswick to report that a disturbance at the corner of Hamilton and Plum Streets, one that turned out to be an armed robbery where a man had his nose broken and his phone stolen.

But before officers could respond to that, reports came in of a shooting incident involving a black truck with Texas license plates near the nexus of New Brunswick, North Brunswick, and Franklin.

"Apparently this all stems from some kind of road rage incident," said a dispatcher, who added that North Brunswick police were chasing the suspect vehicle on Route 1.

The police agencies debated which one would handle the case, described as a "road rage" incident that "started with an [accident] at Veronica and 27" in Franklin Township.

But Franklin police said they were not involved in the situation.

"There were no reports of road rage or shots fired in Franklin on Saturday. If one of the other jurisdictions you mentioned had an issue, we were not notified of it," said Franklin PD spokesperson Philip Rizzo.

North Brunswick and New Brunswick police did not return phone calls from New Brunswick Today.

Only the robbery that led to a broken nose on Plum Street garnered a crime alert, as Rutgers University Police Department announced the incident just minutes after New Brunswick Today's first inquiries about Halloween night.

But it wasn't the only robbery, assault, or burglary that occurred near campus on Friday.

Within about a half an hour, police were called to the scene of a home burglary on Delafield Street, reports of men breaking into cars on Hamilton Street, and two reports of men "knocked out on the ground," one on Robinson Street and the other on Easton Avenue.

At 1:25 am, police were dispatched to the area in front of Au Bon Pain on College Avenue for a report of a robbery victim who had woken up after being knocked unconscious, and had his phone taken.

None of these situations generated a Rutgers crime alert, despite a high-profile fight to expand them earlier this year.  Crime alerts have been a point of controversy since the seemingly random killing of a Kean University student in a Rutgers-dominated neighborhood in February.

As mounting criticism pressed Rutgers on why they did not alert students and others in dangerous situations, the school expanded their crime alert policy on March 13, saying federal notification requirements were insufficient for the school's sprawling campus.

But, as New Brunswick Today showed in a September article about two similar incidents on the same block, many serious crimes still go unreported to the public.

Rutgers University has not responded to questions about why their alert system was not used in the other incidents, or what exactly was going on at the student center building on College Avenue.

New Brunswick Police have not responded to multiple inquiries about the chaos more than 48 hours later.

For the benefit of our readers, here is a summary of some of the most interesting situations described on the emergency radio transmissions from the extraordinarily busy night for New Brunswick's first responders:

7:33pm Police, fire, an ambulance, and two tow trucks sent to the corner of Suydam and Jones Avenue, the scene of a four-vehicle crash.

8:15pm Police and eventually a tow truck dispatched to a tw0-vehicle crash near the intersection of Routes 18 and 1.

8:20pm Ambulance dispatched to 100 Lee Avenue for a sick person with "altered mental status."

9:10pm New Brunswick police make two arrests in quick succession and the prisoners are taken to police headquarters.

9:36pm Pedestrian struck by an automobile near the intersection of George and Church Streets in downtown, causing a traffic backup.

9:43pm Police respond to Sample Road and Gattling Court for a report of "six or seven males playing dice."

9:45pm Ambulance called to the scene of an "unconscious overdose" on Kirkpatrick Street, across from the entrance to the abandoned FreshGrocer supermarket.

10:11pm An ambulance and police are sent to 239 Baldwin Street, near Joyce Kilmer Avenue, for an "alcohol-related incident" on the front steps of the home.

10:20pm A disorderly person reported on the divider of Route 18 near the railroad bridge.

10:37pm Rutgers police from housing of a problem with students blocking a roadway waiting for a bus.  "The bus stop across the street from Sonny Werblin [Recreation Center], you got a bunch of kids out here and they are blocking one of the roads waiting for the bus.  And somebody's going to get hit by a car the way they got these students out in the street."

10:47pm  Police respond to a dispute between lovers, one of them with a knife, at 71 Plum Street.

10:49pm Police sent to a disturbance at Mi Tierra, a bar at the intersection of Jersey Avenue and Handy Street.

11:23pm A Rutgers bus became so overcrowded it could not move, but the riders refused to get off.

11:36pm Intoxicated individauls are waiting at Brower Commons, Biel Road, Campbell Hall, and Livingstons campus' B building.

11:50pm New Brunswick police respond to reports of a male and female breaking down a fence near 217 Somerset Street and Kossuth Park and smoking a controlled dangerous substance.

11:52pm Police report they are are "out with" a disorderly person at 44 Sicard Street.

Midnight Police call for an ambulance to help a sick person who was already very close to RWJ hospital's emergency room.  "We need EMS to [the RWJ] Cancer Institute to bring him 50 feet."

12:02am Another ambulance was requested at Easton Avenue & Condict Street where an "extremely [intoxicated] male" was found.

12:03am  A pedestrian is struck a few blocks away at Easton Avenue and Stone Street.

12:07am An ambulance was requested for an intoxicated person reported at the College Avenue Gym.

12:10am An ambulance was requested for a non-responsive intoxicated person in Allen Hall on Busch campus.

12:13am A man was found passed out in a backyard at 51 Mine Street.  "Everybody at that party said they had no idea who he is."

12:19am An intoxicated individual was "laid out in the street by George and Commercial."  By the time help arrived twenty minutes later, the scene was clear.

12:20am Another intoxicated person is reported on a Rutgers bus near the Cabaret Theatre.

12:24am A Rutgers worker says he has three intoxicated individuals waiting for an ambulance at the RU Student Center, and asks if a "rig" is on the way.  He is told that authorities "are currently stacking all [alcohol related incidents]  They are currently using 'med rescue 1' to go to George and Commercial for the unconscious."

12:25am Police shut down a party at 57 Ray Street for the second time that night, but before they can respond they are sent to a nearby burglary.

12:26am Dispatchers send police to 19 Courtlandt Street where there was a burglary to the residents.  "A [black] male broke into the house and stole an iPad and other items."

12:30am A disturbance was reported at 44 Robinson Street. "It broke up and there's a male knocked out on the ground."

12:32am "South Tower rear door for the combative [intoxicated individual]"

12:34am Police attempt to take control of Hartwell Street, crowded with Halloween partiers, and proceed to clear it over the course of the next 15 minutes.  "Go to Hamilton & Hartwell and shut that down.  Don't let any cars down that street."

12:40am After another intoxicated individual in need of medical attention was reported at the Scott Hall bus stop, a voice pleads,  "Put out an urgent text alert for a fourth ambulance."

12:40am "You'll probably want EMS over here at Kati Roll.  I got a male down, bleeding from the head.  He's unconcious."

12:49am "St. Peter's advising us right now they only have three beds... They're working on getting more in a little drunk tank area."

12:54am Police arrived at 90 Senior Street to find "a loud party and a small disturbance"

12:55am An ambulance was dispatched to Bartlett Street near College Avenue for "an unconscious 19-year old"

12:56am Another intoxicated invididual was removed from a bus at Student Activities Center, leading a first responder to ask for a second ambulance.  "It's gonna be a while," was the response.

12:57am Officials contact the Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management, in the hopes of requiring an ambulance bus, as workers on the scene at Rutgers Student Center confirm they are waiting with five intoxicated individuals in need of medical attention. 

12:58am Police are alerted to reports that, in the area of 118 Hamilton Street, "Four [black] males, one in a light puffy jacket, breaking into vehicles."

1:00am A neighbor complains about noise from a party at 46 Bayard Street in downtown.

1:01am A disorderly person arrested in front of Harvest Moon on George Street.  "We got a wild one here," says an arresting officer.

1:18am Police respond to a motor vehicle crash in the rear of Lot 30 near Senior Street.

1:20am "He said he witnessed a [white] male in an orange jumpsuit kick in the window of a house nearby and follow him into that location."

1:25am A community service officer (CSO) on scene asks for someone to "check out" a robbery victim who woke up from unconcsciousness near the Au Bon Pain in the Rutgers Student Center.  The victim did not appear to suffer injuries.

1:30am An ambulance responds to an intoxicated individual in the lobby of Hardenbergh Hall.

1:34am Reports of a a male with no shirt and wearing jeans in Lot 30 came in, as the individual eventually worked their way over to Lot 26 between Bartlett and Morrell Streets.  "Maybe he is going to his truck to get a weapon."

2:05am Police and an ambulance were contacted to respond to Wyckoff Street near Senior Street for a male who was assaulted and wandering around the neighborhood.

2:06am Help is requested for an intoxicated individual "that's apparently trying to get away from the RA

2:08am Police from North Brunswick forward a call about an assault and robbery at Hamilton Street and Plum Street.  Distracted by a shooting call, police arrive late and at first cannot find the victim.  Eventually, this incident becomes the only one reported to the public more than 17 hours later in the form of a Rutgers crime alert.

2:09am Police are called to the nexus of three municipalities: North Brunswick, New Brunswick, and Franklin where "seven shots" were fired at How Lane and Route 27.  New Brunswick police initially report that "it's North Brunswick's shooting," but are later called back after new information shows the case started from a "road rage incident" in Franklin Township.

2:17am A person is struck by a bicycle at the intersection of Easton Avenue & Prosper Street

2:21am An ambulance is sent to Demarest Hall for an "unconscious male."

2:22am Police call for an ambulance at Mine Street and Central Avenue.  "He fell and hit his face."

2:25am A triage area is set up under the portion of Morrell Street underneath the Rutgers Student Center.

UPDATE (6:05PM): A spokesperson for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) has indicated that the hospital did not reach capacity, contrary to comments made by dispatchers and first responders over emergency radio transmissions.

"I don't believe that the scanner chatter that you heard was completely accurate," said RWJUH spokesperson Peter Haigney. "They might have been talking about contingency plans."

"We received twelve patients that were intoxicated, all of whom were treated and released by Saturday morning. We did not go on divert."