Mass Casualty Incidents, News, Trauma

EMS Team Faced Danger Responding to California School Shooting

Emergency personnel remove an injured person following a shooting at Saugus High School, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2015 in Santa Clarita, Calif. (David Crane/The Orange County Register via AP)

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – Paramedics were called to Saugus High School at 7:40 a.m. Thursday morning in response to an active shooter, arriving on scene a mere two minutes later. Juan Ortiz and his partner Sara Valenzuela, both veteran Emergency Medical Technicians and members of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (IAEP) Local 77, were the first to respond and quickly called for more units upon discovering that four or more victims needed medical attention.

Ortiz and Valenzuela attempted to establish a triage staging area but upon hearing of the severity of victim’s injuries made the call to move in without awaiting proper protection. Under the guard of Santa Clarita law enforcement officers, Ortiz and a fire medic entered the “hot zone” where the shooter was known to be at-large while Valenzuela retrieved backboard supports from their emergency vehicle. 

Ortiz and his assisting paramedic stabilized and extracted a young male who had been shot in the abdomen. “We picked him up quickly and got escorted out of there. With only one squad, one ambulance and one engine arriving to triage everyone it was chaos,” Ortiz said. Valenzuela drove as her partner and their assisting paramedic attempted compressions on route to the hospital, but despite their expedient efforts, the student would not survive his injuries.

Responding EMS professionals moved quickly upon arriving at Saugus, acting without securing body armor and responding immediately after assessing the severity of the situation.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to our members, their families and the community of Santa Clarita,” said IAEP National Director Philip Petit. “These professionals should be proud and highly acknowledged for their fast, decisive action in response to the tragic events at Saugus High. IAEP certainly recognizes their efforts and dedication, and we hope AMR (American Medical Response) management will do the same.” 

Many of the first responders called to action that day had deep ties to Saugus. Some, like Valenzuela, had several friends and even family who currently attend the school. Jacob Moeller, brother to a 2017 Saugus graduate and responding EMT supported the decision as well, saying: “Despite the chaos and potentially reckless response on our part going in without body armor, I believe it was the right choice. Had we all been forced to stage out and wait, some of the victims may not have had a fighting chance.”