The paramedics who responded to site of the mass shooting Jan. 8 talked to the press Saturday, but residents shouldn’t expect to hear more of their experiences too often. Like GIs home from war, the first responders find it easier to discuss the bloody scene with others who were there and can understand.
“That’s the benefit in our being with each other. We can talk among ourselves about what we saw,” said Brian Keely, a paramedic at Fire Station 33 in the Northwest Fire/Rescue District.
Keely was one of the 19 firefighters, paramedics and other fire personnel from Northwest Fire who arrived at the site of the shootings, on the corner of Ina and Oracle roads. During a press conference Jan. 15, they spoke about treating the injured, among them 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who died, and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from her injuries. The men answered a nonstop series of questions, but stoically offered little other information.
They described the crime scene as chaotic.
“Our job was to turn chaos into controlled chaos,” said Keely.
A large police presence already was there, tending to the crowd of about 150 frantic people. Among them was Giffords, who had hosted the community gathering that drew people to the shopping center that morning. Believed to be the gunman’s target, the congresswoman was critically wounded. Six people died at the gunman’s hand while another 14, Giffords included, were injured.
Victims were laying in a row about 30 feet long, paramedic Tony Compagno said. “I wondered, ‘What am I counting, injured or dead?”
Compagno and his fellow crewmembers fell back on their training and got to work. Compagno began triage — assessing each victim’s injuries to determine the order in which they should be treated. Paramedic Colt Jackson tended to Giffords, while EMT Shawn Twilling began treating 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Their goal was to stabilize the victims and get them to the hospital as quickly as possible.
After all the victims were treated, the crew stayed on the scene until about 4 p.m. to answer questions from investigators. They then tried to put their emotions in check.
“It’s where our training comes into play. It’s not a cold-hearted thing, but we had to put our emotions to the back of our brain so we could be of benefit to the next call,” Twilling said.
The crew credited any life-saving successes to the teamwork provided by other area first responders and the public.
“Police, the sheriff’s department, the Golder Ranch Fire District, Southwest Ambulance/Rural/Metro Ambulance, three helicopter agencies, the Tucson Fire Department and bystanders; everything worked because everyone came together,” said fire Capt. Ken Trapp.