Pittsburgh Marathon success declared over 'unique challenges'

Police declare victory in safeguarding race

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Security and medic operations at the Pittsburgh Marathon ran smoothly Sunday, officials said, with the only "black mark" being the death of a 23-year-old man who collapsed while running the half marathon.

More than 22,000 people participated in some form, whether running in the marathon, half marathon or relay. The death of Kyle Chase Johnson of Downtown was the first associated with the race since it returned to the city five years ago, organizers said, and it left a sad note on the day. But a cool morning breeze and moderate temperatures helped contribute to an overall decrease in medical calls this year.

And public safety officials said the increased number of officers dealt primarily with minor calls for suspicious behavior or packages left unattended.

"Boston had no warning, and we had several weeks to prepare, and I'm very comfortable with the way we approached it," Pittsburgh public safety director Michael Huss said. "It's very hard. It's not like you're locking down a facility, a stadium or a venue. It's a 26-mile venue, so it has very unique challenges."

Many police officers and medics from departments as far away as Erie, Pa., began their day at 4 or 5 a.m., with some starting even earlier to help conduct precautionary sweeps to check for explosions.

Acting Pittsburgh police Chief Regina McDonald said bomb squad members checked out 17 suspicious packages. Many were backpacks that had been left unattended. One ended up being a discarded TV. Another turned out to be a garbage can with clothing inside.

Members of the SWAT team were tucked away just outside of view from the main race but ready to jump into action if they received a call. Officers with K9s strolled in Downtown, and some undercover officers and marksmen observers went unnoticed by most people.

Police were stationed at 471 locations along the race route, with Pittsburgh police staffing 231 of them and volunteers, school guards and officers from other agencies staffing the other 240.

Mr. Huss said the city will bill the marathon for its typical levels of security. State and federal agencies will foot the bill for their increased presence, and county and regional groups will be paid for using federal Department of Homeland Security funds, a move that was authorized by DHS after the Boston Marathon bombings.

At least 35 Pittsburgh medics worked overtime to help with the race Sunday and plan to donate their wages to the One Fund Boston, a charity benefitting the Boston marathon bombing victims.

Anthony Weinmann, president of the Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics, said he does not yet have a complete estimate because each person's pay rate differs slightly, but he thought their wages would amount to at least a $10,000 donation.

Some medics who weren't working collected donations for the One Fund Boston outside the Consol Energy Center and other locations along the marathon route.

The charity had collected $28.5 million as of Sunday, "but we can do our little part out here in Pittsburgh to show our support. I think our guys think it's a great gesture," Mr. Weinmann said.

Paramedics from Pittsburgh and surrounding communities and 550 medical volunteers helped to treat people for complaints ranging from chest pain and shortness of breath to broken ankles.

The race medical team treated 133 people -- 87 at the finish line medical tent and 46 at various aid stations along the course. Twenty-eight runners were taken to local hospitals. Those numbers represented a decrease in the number of people who had been treated in previous years.

"They had a very busy day and, as usual, they performed with the highest level of professionalism," Mr. Huss said of the medics. "It's a sad day for all of us here today. It's a very sad day, but their work should not go unnoticed."

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published May 6, 2013 4:00 AM


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