Emergency care

Amtrak crash: DO who treated victims lauds preparation, teamwork

Disaster drills and teamwork helped Rob Danoff, DO, assist the victims of the most serious disaster he’s encountered in his career.


On Tuesday evening, Rob Danoff, DO, was at a bowling alley celebrating a colleague’s birthday. When he heard about the Philadelphia Amtrak crash that left eight dead and more than 200 people injured, he and his fellow revelers quickly switched gears, dispersing to two of the three Aria Health hospital locations where many of the injured from the derailment were transported for treatment.

“I immediately called the emergency department,” says Dr. Danoff, the program director of the family practice residency program and the combined family practice/emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health System in Philadelphia. “I asked if they needed help, and they said yes. I was with some of our residents. I said, ‘Who here can help?’ Everyone raised their hands.”

When Dr. Danoff arrived at the Aria Frankford Hospital, the emergency room was packed with crash victims. He saw some of the injured on stretchers, some of whom were unconscious, and people with open wounds, concussions, broken bones and dirt-covered lacerations. Dr. Danoff began treating patients right away; several spoke about the crash.

“Everyone mentioned hearing a sudden loud noise, and not remembering what happened next,” he says. “They remember waking up and seeing blood and someone upside down, or covered by mud, or glass all over the place. And they remember seeing the emergency responders walking through and helping them.”

The train crash was the most serious emergency Dr. Danoff attended to in his career, but he was well-prepared to help patients thanks to the hospital’s frequent and comprehensive disaster drills, he says.

“Never underestimate the value of preparation,” he says. “Drills are practice, and practice helps in terms of organization, in terms of response, in terms of focus, in terms of working together.”

A key to efficient disaster response is for everyone to know their role and work to support one another, Dr. Danoff reports. For instance, the emergency medicine, trauma and orthopedic physicians focused on treating and stabilizing the sickest patients, while Dr. Danoff and the volunteer residents treated stable patients who could talk and were coherent. There were also patients to see who were there for other reasons, and the emergency team staff did a tremendous job of communicating to all and doing as best they could for those who sought treatment, Dr. Danoff says.

“Everyone worked within their ability,” he says. “From the first responders to the front desk to security, all played an important role. Nursing worked with doctors, who worked with lab and radiology. It was a true team approach, which was needed. I was greatly impressed by what could have been a chaotic scene, but was not. It was a very organized response and an organized team that helped the patients.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated on May 14, 2015, at 5:20 p.m. to provide more information on hospital locations and emergency department operations.

One comment

  1. John Garcia

    Thank you for this piece lauding the helpful nature of a family physician during a time of need. However, I feel that the so called “profession” is saturated with over-arching self flattering during times such as this. Regardless of MD or DO, the emphasis should be on PHYSICIANS helping a community during time of need. The mere fact that this article showcased that it was a “DO” that helped during such a vulnerable situation, really detracts away from the bigger picture. Given the merging of ACGME programs, it being the TWENTY-FIRST century with virtually no distinction between MDs and DOs, please refrain from such overly done and unnecessary pieces on “DO” self lauding.

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