First Responders Remember Scene - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

First Responders Remember Scene

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Off-duty paramedics were some of the first people to arrive at the sugar refinery the night of the explosion. They rushed to the plant to help the victims of the blast, transport them to the hospital, then go back for more.

Many of them had just left work, only to get the call something bad had happened at Imperial Sugar.

"When I got there," Lt. Rich Gebhart of MedStar said, "there were probably 15 to 20 people that had already been brought out into a makeshift triage area. All of them significantly burned."

Lt. Gebhart was the first one on the scene that night.

With fire still burning, he knew they'd need all the help they could get. Victims needed treatment, and they needed it fast. The paramedics and EMTs started a triage and prioritized patients. The most critical left first.

"We tried to communicate with the patients as best we could, to reassure them, tell them they were in good hands," said MedStar chief of operations Bengie Cowart. "We were going to help them and get them to the hospital."

Lt. Brian Riley talked to the victims as much as possible.

"A lot of them were saying, 'Please call my family.' Which we did,'' said Riley. "They said, 'I'm cold.' A lot of them were cold because they were severely burned."

Lt. Riley helped transport some of the first burn victims to Memorial, where nurses and doctors waited and gurneys were lined up in rows to receive patients. Two patients were flown from the scene, the rest rushed by ambulance. Some were driven by police officers in their cruisers.

From the time the first paramedic arrived on the scene, it took a little over an hour to get the last patient out and to the hospital. Nine helicopters were flown in from Georgia and South Carolina to transport the most critical to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.

"We needed a number of aircraft to come in, to not outstrip our resources," said David Herrin, chief of air operations.

Each of the medics says not a day has gone by they haven't thought about those patients and their loved ones.

"Our prayers are with them," Lt. Riley said softly. "Every night, we say a prayer for them."

In all, ambulances, paramedics and EMTs responded to the explosion from as far away as Camden County and Jasper County, South Carolina. Most didn't call, they just showed up on scene and asked how they could help.

Reported by: Melanie A. Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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