Paramedic: 'It was chaos ... my mind went blank'

2011-01-16T00:00:00Z 2011-01-16T00:24:23Z Paramedic: 'It was chaos ... my mind went blank'Phil Villarreal Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 16, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Northwest Fire paramedic Tony Compagno was momentarily overwhelmed by the horror he confronted on Jan. 8.

"It was chaos. There were lots of people moving around," Compagno said at a news conference Saturday of Northwest first responders. "People on the ground. I went in there and had to assess the scene."

It was up to Compagno to assess the condition of the victims at the northwest-side Safeway where 19 people were shot, six of whom died.

A pair of ambulances were available to take the two most gravely injured patients to University Medical Center. Three helicopters were on their way, but the ambulances were the quickest route to the hospital.

Dispensing with the routine of filling out triage cards for each victim because he thought it would take too long, Compagno checked each victim, making a count of those who were injured. Four people appeared to be dead, he said.

"It was tough. Very tough. I admit it right now, when I got up there, my mind went a little blank. I counted more than once," Compagno said.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green were the highest-priority victims, based on their injuries.

"I didn't even know she was a congresswoman. I treated her just as I would have treated any other patient," said fellow firefighter and paramedic Colt Jackson, who was assigned to care for Giffords. Jackson said he quickly encountered Daniel Hernandez Jr., who had been giving Giffords first-aid and keeping pressure on her gunshot wound to the head.

"He did great. He did anything I asked," Jackson said. "Once I got on scene, he said he was going to stay with her. I said, 'OK, if you're gonna stay, I'm gonna put you to work.'"

The speed and organization of the first responders was likely the reason so many of the shooting victims were saved, said Battalion Chief Lane Spalla.

Capt. Adam Goldberg said his department got the call about the shooting at 10:14 a.m. Engine 330, with Compagno and Jackson aboard, arrived at the Safeway from Station 30, 1520 W. Orange Grove Road, at 10:19, before Pima County sheriff's deputies and Oro Valley policemen were able to secure the scene.

Once law enforcement deemed the scene safe to approach, paramedics began caring for victims at 10:22.

Ambulances carrying Giffords and Christina-Taylor left at 10:41 and reached UMC at 10:54.

Christina-Taylor died at the hospital, and Giffords remains at UMC. Although she has shown significant signs of improvement, she remains in critical condition. Three other shooting victims are still hospitalized at UMC, all in good condition.

Goldberg said nearly 100 emergency personnel were on scene within 35 minutes of the initial call. Included in the effort were six engines, 12 ambulances and three helicopters.

"It was a phenomenal community response," he said.

Goldberg said rescue workers from various departments used mass-casualty training they've received since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com

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