(LAS VEGAS) — Three off-duty first responders who were attending a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip Sunday night sprang into action to help those in need after a faraway gunman sprayed bullets into the crowd.
The men stayed on the scene and helped organize the chaos as 22,000 terrified concertgoers ran to escape what one witness described as “nonstop gunfire.” The attack, which killed 59 people, was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
All three first responders, who are from the Las Vegas area, thought the shots were fireworks at first, they said in a press conference Tuesday.
Jesse Gomez, with the Clark County Fire Department, was attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival across the street from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino with his family when he heard the shots, he said in a press conference Tuesday.
Gomez initially fled with his family, who begged him not to return to the scene. Although he said it was one of the hardest decisions he’s ever had to make, he felt that he had to help, he said.
The shots were still ringing out as he made his way back, he said.
“I had no idea where it was,” he said. “… It sounded like it was right next to us.”
Gomez then called emergency dispatchers to give them a heads up of what was happening and inform them of where he was sending patients. People were using anything they could to carry the injured out of the venue, including fences, tarps and trash cans, he said.
Gomez told people to head to the east side of the facility, adding that it was difficult to inform people that their loved ones were dead and that they still needed to move and get out of the area.
“I wanted to get these people outta here,” he said.
Gomez’s wife and other family members also assisted in helping to transport the injured to area hospitals, he said. Gomez also thanked members of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, who helped “countless people get away,” including his sister and brother-in-law.
By 1 a.m., nearly three hours after the shooting began, Gomez was finally able to head home, he said.
Anthony Ramboni, an off-duty firefighter from Henderson County at first told his girlfriend that everything was fine, but then hovered over her to protect her as the shooting continued, he said.
He then saw his brother next to him, spitting up blood after he was hit by the gunfire, he said.
A friend led Ramboni’s girlfriend to safety while he stayed in the line of fire to help his brother, he said, adding that it seemed like the rounds never stopped.
Ramboni then carried his brother, whom he called his “best friend,” to the east side of the facility to look for medical attention. He kept looking for an ambulance to place him in, but there weren’t any, he said. He then began to treat his brother himself with first aid gear, he said.
Ramboni then set up a triage and began treating injured victims in the street, he said. Once he finally put his brother in the first ambulance he could find, he was in critical condition, he said.
Ramboni said he saw multiple dead people on the street as well but he couldn’t help them.
Ramboni witnessed a lot of selflessness on the tragic scene, which included victims with less-severe gunshot wounds letting people who were more badly injured get help first, he said. He also saw several people with no medical training take off their off their belts to make tourniquets for strangers, he said.
After helping more people, Ramboni then jumped in the back of an ambulance to head toward the hospital that his brother was taken to, he said.
Ben Cole, a firefighter and paramedic for Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, said he soon realized the popping sounds were not fireworks.
“Once the automatic fire started, we knew it was something else,” he said.
Cole then took cover by running into an area that had overhead protection, he said. Then, he realized that his daughter, who was working the event for Community Ambulance, a private ambulance company, could still be there.
In a fortunate turn of events, Cole’s daughter had received a medical call that required her to respond to another location just before the gunfire started, Cole said.
Once they located each other, Cole and his daughter hugged before exchanging looks and saying, “It’s time to get to work,” Cole said.
The pair then decided to set up a triage even though “there was no official communications established as of yet.” Cole did not have a radio since he was off duty, he said.
Cole called emergency dispatchers from his cellphone and instructed them to send the injured to the triage area, he said. He also praised civilians, saying they were “amazing” and listened to instructions on how to help.
Cole encouraged everyone affected by the attack to “seek the help afterward,” adding that he and his daughter both went to their first counseling sessions on Monday.
A total of 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured in the massacre. The shooting suspect has been identified as 64-year-old Mesquite, Nevada resident Stephen Paddock, who was found dead on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel when authorities entered his room.
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