Courage in the Face of Chaos: EMT Response to the Boston Marathon Bombings


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When faced with a disaster like the one at the Boston Marathon I think it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer horror of it all.  It certainly doesn’t help when we are bombarded with images of people that have died, lost limbs, or suffered burns and it was difficult to not feel incredibly anxious as almost every news channel you flipped to in the last few days was 24 hour coverage of the manhunt.  There is a place for all that, but here I want to focus on the courage that countered an attack meant to implant fear; I want to focus on the people that faced the aftermath of the explosions, risking their own lives to save others; I want to talk about the Boston EMT.

This year, over 25,000 people were registered to run the Boston Marathon and over 500,000 people from all over the world were there to spectate.  At every marathon, there are always many trained medical overseers in case of emergency involving runners or the many spectators.  At the finish line alone, there were dozens of personnel stationed with equipment.  In any marathon there are many expected risks such as, dehydration, sprains, breaks, and even cardiac arrest, but the medical staff at this marathon had no idea what they were about to have to take care of.

Chief Jimmy Hooley of Boston EMS said that his staff trained for several worst-case scenarios, so when the bombs went off, they were prepared.  But the dilemma they faced was two bombs had gone off already, so who was to say that there couldn’t be more?  They had to decide – wait for the police and bomb squads to secure the area, or risk their own lives and start attending to the victims.  They decided to go in.

Hooley said that even in chaotic situations, his 340-member crew is well trained in rapid assessment.  Knowing well that another bomb could go off, they had to take quick action and get people out.  They began separating people by how serious their injuries were.  The one’s that could walk were told to get themselves to the medical tent, so that way the EMT responders were free to help people that were unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to walk.  They also knew that in situations where there are many injuries, they would have to evenly divide victims out to the hospitals so that none of them would get overwhelmed.  The responders color-coated the victims so that dispatchers would know which ones needed care the most and which hospitals were the best equipped to take care of specific injuries.

Within 18 minutes, all of the bombing victims were off Boylston Street.  Although there were 3 deaths, there is no doubt more of the 170 injured would have suffered the same fate had it not been for the quick action by all the emergency responders.

This tragedy is hard to talk about, but I believe a peace can be found in this.  I know I can take comfort in knowing that despite when cruel and cowardly actions are taken by 2 people, there are at least 340 there to respond selflessly and courageously.  There are many other heroic stories that have come out since the bombing and I’m sure more will continue to surface, but I wanted to make sure to specifically applaud the efforts of Hooley and all his crew and thank them for both their service and for giving an example of what true heroism looks like.

Post by Chris Nelson, AED.com

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