We turn into the shopping center and there’s a police car out front, a lot of plainclothes police, detectives. I can tell this is a big deal. I grab my equipment—a medical aid box and the EKG monitor—and head in. I still don’t know the gravity, but when I cross the door I smell gunpowder and think, “Wow, this literally just happened.”
When I look around, time kind of stops. My mind can’t process what’s going on—it’s snapshots of things. Everywhere I look, there’s a victim. I’m thinking, “This cannot be real.” It’s very traumatic, and slow-moving. Then, all of a sudden, I’m back. It’s probably been a matter of seconds.
I put my equipment down. People are all talking to me at once. There’s a police EMT and another EMT working at a construction site across the street who’d just come over. People are frantic, people who are not wounded, but are in shock. There are officers talking to me. People are waving me over to victims. The sound of the helicopter and the sirens coming—all that together—it’s hitting every sensor I have. I see magazines on the floor; people were reading them. A hairdryer, the kind people sit under, is still running with a victim under it. I look over at the sink where they wash hair and there are victims there, and the water is still running. Taking all this in, it’s overwhelming. But our job is to push this out of the way.
I move briefly from patient to patient. I check for respiratory, pulse, and mental status, which is how we go about our triage, even though some victims are obviously gone. I relay to my captain, this is what we have. I hear someone saying we got two more outside, and I think, “When is this enough?” Other paramedics arrive and begin stabilizing the patients we’re going to transport.
After the wounded are transported, I gather up all my equipment on the floor. I take in the severity of it. Victims everywhere. You hear the salon telephone ringing and you hear the recording pick up, you know? You hear cell phones going off, the different songs and tones, and you don’t know if it’s people hearing about it on the news and they’re worrying about someone, or if it’s people calling just to say, “Hi, how’s your day going? When are you going to be home?”—just normal stuff. It’s a weird feeling that you know these people’s fates, but the families don’t.
I walk outside and lots of people are standing around. The crime-scene tape is up. Helicopters are in the air. I have my gloves on. There’s blood on me. The adrenaline starts leaving me and I feel tired, like I’ve been running for an hour.
I think about it multiple times every day. I went on a call the other day for a patient who was having difficulty breathing, and it was in a salon. Just hearing the word “salon,” or walking into one, brings everything back. I think it always will.
Photography by Jason Wallis
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.