Ariz. Medics/Firefighters Recall Tragic Tucson Shooting

Firefighters and medics who responded to the tragic 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., shared the lessons they learned at Firehouse World.


First Due medic Compagno said the scene was almost indescribable, with people wounded, some badly, some dead and some with minor injuries. And virtually everybody was coming after him looking for something.

Rodeffer said an amazing thing happened right after the shooting. The shooting location - in an upscale part of town on a Saturday morning - was teaming with professionals including doctors and nurses, all helping out.

The first Pima County Sheriffs on the scene brought some individual first aid kits, meant to help them if any sheriffs got hurt themselves.

Ironically, the sheriffs' kits contained many items the medics couldn’t use under protocol, such as combat gauze, compression bandages with a clotting agent, a tourniquet and medical shears, Compagno said.

“The only thing I am allowed to use in that kit is the shears,” Compagno said, noting it was the fire department and medics who advocated sheriffs have that equipment.

Rodeffer said all the patients were gathered in a very small confined area, some stacked on each other, and care and transport were given as the victims could be reached.

“There have been some criticisms that the fire department gave Gabbie Giffords preference treatment because she was a Congresswoman,” Rodeffer said. “She was one of the first to go because she was shot in the head, that’s it.”

Rodeffer said the only special treatment given was to a young girl who was shot and ultimately died from her injuries.

He maintained that the girl was not viable and could not have been saved regardless of the effort the bystanders were providing with good CPR.

Under normal circumstances the girl would have been left for dead, but everyone was focused on saving her, so Rodeffer said he made the decision to have the girl transported regardless of her true condition.

“She was a distraction and I needed to get her out so we could work on the others,” Rodeffer said.

Compagno said the scene was so chaotic that he realized he didn’t have time to deploy his triage cards in the method they were meant to be used.

“The patients were so close together and they all needed something, that I just said ‘no, I am not doing that,” Compagno said. It was a decision he said he regretted later only because of his training, not because it would have made a difference in the outcome.

That decision did, however, require the department to write up patient care reports for all the patients they treated.

Rodeffer said that right from the beginning, the decision was to get the patients out of there as quickly as possible. That’s why they shut down the roads and landed three helicopters on them.

Ironically, the helicopter was not the fastest way to transport victims from the scene.

“I forgot all about the time it takes to get the team together, do the preflight inspection and warm them up,” Rodeffer said.

Some of the most critically injured people were transported the 12 miles to the hospital in ground ambulances because it was quicker.

Rodeffer said he was not against the use of helicopters, but people need to keep in mind that it will take “longer than you think” to get your patient to the hospital.

“Sometimes, as in this case, we decided to put them in the ambulance and start providing care while we are covering some miles at the same time.”

From start to finish, it took 52 minutes to remove all surviving victims and get them to definitive care.

“It was fast,” Rodeffer said. “I will not tell you it was the best. I will not tell you it was accurate. I will tell you it was fast.”

With the scene cleared, Rodeffer was giving the orders to pick up all the equipment and get it back in service. The FBI, however, had different ideas. Because it was a crime scene, they needed everything to stay exactly where it was.

“We had 60 percent of our gear in there for the whole region and we couldn’t get it out,” Rodeffer said. “I had some choice colorful words for the FBI agents, and was I was told to not talk to the FBI any more and let the chief do it,” Rodeffer said.

“We had to rely on mutual aid companies to take care of our calls,” Rodeffer said. “That was not something I had anticipated."