Las Vegas shooting: Amid chaos ‘we had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys’

LAS VEGAS — On any other day, during any other emergency, Clark County Deputy Fire Chief Jon Klassen would tell bystanders to remain calm, stick around and let investigators do their jobs.

Oct. 1, 2017, was not that day.

Klassen arrived at the Route 91 Harvest music festival minutes after a hailstorm of bullets leveled dozens in the crowd of more than 20,000 people. Many were dying or already dead. And the rest, Klassen understood immediately, needed to get out.

“I was not telling everybody, ‘Stay here, help’s on the way,’” Klassen said in a Thursday interview. “I was saying, ‘Get the hell out of here. Go! If you can run, if you can carry, if you can get out, go.’”

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First responders from Clark County Fire spoke publicly Thursday to recount their roles in the most deadly mass shooting in modern American history. While many said they leaned on their professional training, they also spoke of swift improvisation — by themselves and others — in a moment of bedlam.

Belts became tourniquets, folding tables became stretchers, and trucks became ambulances.

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Firefighters from the Clark County Fire Department talk about the chaos and moments of heroism they experienced while responding to the mass shooting on Las Vegas Boulevard.
UT

“There wasn’t a whole lot of direction out there,” Klassen said. “It was just people being good people.”

Assistant Fire Chief Troy Tuke was on his way to be a hospital liaison that night when his marked vehicle was flagged down by people in a pickup truck. Two in the truck bed had been shot, so Tuke offered to be their escort to get the patients to the hospital as quickly as possible.

Klassen said he was mobbed by concertgoers as soon as he drove up to the scene in his fire department vehicle. They banged on the hood of his car and begged for transport for their friend, their wife, their brother.

“I did not know when I was going over there what I was going to run into, which was Armageddon,” he said. “It was just running, screaming, crying, bleeding, carrying, shouting, corpses, panic.”

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Klassen knew he couldn’t transport anyone in his vehicle but told them he had a first-aid kit in the back.

“I’ll pop my back lid, grab what you need, do what you need to do,” he said.

Klassen’s role that evening was that of a director. He took over the east division of the venue, coordinating which areas, and people needed the most immediate ambulance and EMS services.

But he also went off-script and assumed a leadership role with non-employees. So many concert attendees from across the country approached him. They said, “I’m from New York. … I’m from California. … I’m a fireman. … I’m an EMT. … What can I do? How can I help?”

“To the point, it was like, ‘Just go find somebody that needs help and help them,’” Klassen said. “’Just go be nice to somebody. Help somebody who needs your help.’”

They did. Everywhere he looked, Klassen watched fellow citizens rescue one another. Six men shouldered a folding table they’d made into a makeshift stretcher. Others uprooted barricades to carry their patients. Klassen witnessed no fewer than three pickup trucks leaving the scene with CPR in progress in the truck’s bed.

To his knowledge, Klassen said, these people weren’t first responders. They were, as Klassen put it, “normal people.”

“But they were good normal people,” he said. “I saw the most amazing acts of beauty and just powerful things out there that night.”

Clark County Fire Department Chief Greg Cassell addressed reporters Thursday morning and underscored the preparations his and other local fire departments had undergone to train for such a scenario.

For years, its personnel worked as part of a fusion center with local law enforcement. They ran drills in schools, malls, hotels and hospitals — enclosed spaces where mass shootings have historically occurred. But they never planned on the type of open-air, scattered scenario they faced Sunday night.

The victims fled to airport property, hotels and streets sometimes several blocks away, their accounts and locations confusing 911 operators as to whether a shooter struck elsewhere.

Still, Cassell said, fire and ambulance teams applied their training and equipment accordingly. More than 200 patients were transported to area hospitals by fire and EMS crews, he said.

He lauded the department’s partnership with police in an incident command system — an operation that designates one or two people in charge to limit confusion.

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“This unified incident command saved lives,” Cassell said. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the fact that we were standing toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, with police officers to integrate our response was critical.”

Travis Haldeman, a fire engineer for Clark County Fire Department, was off-duty that night, attending the country festival with his wife, Haley, and friends.

Like everyone, the couple thought the initial burst of gunfire had been firecrackers. The gravity of the situation registered by the second round.

The two hopped over a metal barrier that was about 10 feet away to try and take cover. It was then that they decided to separate: Haley Haldeman would run to the nearby Tropicana resort, and Travis Haldeman would stay back to help the wounded.

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A motion graphic explaining how the events unfolded when Stephen Paddock opened fire from his hotel room on concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.
Ramon Padilla, Janet Loehrke George Petras, Jim Sergent UT

But the gunfire started again as soon as the two separated, so Haley Haldeman ducked for the nearest shelter in view — a small stage set up in the middle of the venue for a camera. She and an Anaheim firefighter and his wife would soon make a break for it, at last making it into the employee entrance of the Tropicana.

Meanwhile, Travis Haldeman went back over the barrier and assessed the carnage. Several people were already dead; others were pouring blood.

A man shot in the leg caught Haldeman’s eye. Someone had given the man a T-shirt to soak the blood, but it failed to control the bleeding. So Haldeman removed his belt, cinched it around the man’s leg, threw him on his back and took off toward the medical tent.

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As he ran, Haldeman said, about three bullets skipped across the pavement no more than 10 feet ahead of him.

Haldeman dropped off the injured man at the medical tent and went back for two hurt women who had caught his eye. One had been shot in the hip and couldn’t walk, the other in the shoulder. He carried the one with the hip injury back to the medical tent, while the other held onto his shirt.

Back at the medical tent, he and others went to work. They started IVs, bandaged up wounds, tightened tourniquets.

“We kind of all had our own few patients we were tending to,” he said.

One of his patients was an 18-year-old woman who had been shot in the lower back and was having trouble moving her legs. Travis tried to keep her calm and under control when, out of nowhere, her father appeared.

Her father was an off-duty metro officer who had come to assist the injured. He had no idea one would be his daughter, Haldeman said.

“It really speaks to how … big a city Las Vegas is, but really it’s just such a small community,” he said. “What are the odds of her father showing up in that medical team?”

The off-duty officer left for but a moment and reappeared carrying a backboard. The men loaded his daughter in the back of a pickup truck, and Haldeman sat by her side all the way to the hospital.

While there, Haldeman rediscovered the man shot in the leg whom he helped get to safety. He then took the effort to help the man reach his family.

Other first responders’ had difficulty doing what they aimed to do.

Interstate 15 shut down while Tuke was trying to escort the truck carrying several gunshot victims to the hospital. When they turned a corner to reroute, the caravan got stuck in traffic. One of the patients died en route to the hospital.

Tuke said he had to leave the patients in the care of law enforcement and return to the chaos.

“Which is tough,” he said. “[But] there was really nothing to do for her.”

Still, the first responders interviewed said they were proud to be of some help that horrific night and proud to be part of the Las Vegas community.

“We had one bad guy, and 25,000 good guys,” Klassen said. “That’s pretty good odds. I’ll take those odds.”

Follow Megan Cassidy on Twitter: @meganrcassidy

 

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