Professionalism And Calm In The Eye Of The Storm

The Responders

August 02, 2009|By Peter Hermann and Arthur Hirsch | Peter Hermann and Arthur Hirsch, and arthur

After she'd helped a man who had been shot three times into a wheelchair, after an SUV had delivered another shooting victim and two more men had walked past with bloodied T-shirts covering their wounds, nurse Cindy Barber began to wonder just what was unfolding in the Johns Hopkins emergency room.

"Are there more coming?" she asked herself. "Is someone still after them, and are they going to come here?"

Ambulances soon arrived with more patients, and by the end of Barber's July 26 overnight shift, police, paramedics, nurses and doctors had scrambled to treat 18 people shot during the bloodiest five hours that any of the first responders could remember in Baltimore.

The night of violence, much of it concentrated in East Baltimore and precipitated by a yearlong feud between two families that police believe to be prominent players in the city's drug trade, brought many of those victims to the emergency room at nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital, where the swinging doors are marked with a sign: "Stop Shooting, Start Living."

The victims - 12 were at one cookout - were crammed into already-full emergency rooms. The paramedics raced from call to call, and the witnesses overwhelmed police interview rooms. Two young men died. But the outcome could have been much worse, as Mayor Sheila Dixon would say later.

'He got shot'

The first 911 call came in at 8:58 p.m. The caller was frantic, but the call itself was routine.

"He got shot. He got shot," the woman screamed to a 911 operator.

The caller's words were a blur, the street number garbled. But even as the woman talked, the operator was sending a signal to a dispatcher with the address on Ashland that showed up on caller ID.

At the Oldtown Fire Station on Hillen Street, paramedic Sherille Jones had just backed Medic 7 into its bay and turned off the ignition. Her partner, Heather Franklin, was about to close the garage door when Jones yelled out, "We're getting a run."

It was still 8:58 as Jones pulled out of Oldtown, lights and siren on, even as the dispatcher called out their assignment: "Engine 51, Medic 7, respond ... North Lakewood Avenue and Ashland Avenue for the shooting."

Jones turned right onto Monument and left onto Caroline. Franklin was reading the computer screen in the cab and could see what the dispatcher was typing.

Someone had already loaded their patient into a car and sped off to a hospital.

But the calls to 911 kept coming. More people had been shot.

The two paramedics had no idea they were driving to a street where, moments before, revelers had been grilling burgers and listening to a DJ spin records. Now it was packed with hundreds of people. Some were running to see what had happened; others were trying to escape or screaming for help for their wounded friends.

A chaotic crime scene

The ambulance reached Ashland at 9:03 p.m. Franklin and Jones blew the air horn to break through the crowd that filled the street. Police were frantically pushing people out while at the same time trying to sort through victims, bystanders and maybe even gunmen. Detectives were desperately trying to mark and count piles of spent shell casings and preserve a trampled crime scene that quickly grew from the back alley cookout to six square blocks.

Franklin yelled into her mic to make herself heard over the screaming in the street: "I have one patient shot in the arm, one patient shot in the leg, another patient shot in the leg. We don't know the status of the fourth."

Her words were deliberate, but her urgency apparent. She interrupted her dispatcher as the casualty count climbed.

"Make that five patients," she said.

Later, as the paramedic recalled the dizzying night, she remembered the surging crowd and learning that the shooting had occurred at 2630 Ashland, across the street from where she had parked the ambulance.

"I had three victims in the back of the house, four in the front," she recalled. "I had people screaming at me, 'You have to help this person, you have to help that person.' It's very difficult to organize your thoughts."

Other paramedics sensed her dilemma.

"I'm right downtown if you want me to roll on the multiple shooting," from Medic 5.

"I'm clear, I can go," from Medic 2.

About 20 blocks away, Barber was at the triage desk near Hopkins' emergency room entrance, where she was dealing with the usual kinds of cases - people with chest pains, stomach aches, heroin overdoses.

She overheard the squawk from a police radio at a security desk. The nurse understood only bits and pieces, but enough to know that a shooting victim was headed toward Hopkins.

Barber had time to grab latex gloves and step into the ambulance bay after a small black car pulled up with a young man screaming. He'd been hit by three bullets. The nurse lifted him into a wheelchair and rolled him through the glass doors, then through another set of swinging doors and into Critical Care Room 2.

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