A Homer-area first responder deployed by the American Red Cross to help in the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting found that the best of humanity comes out in the wake of a tragedy.
Travis Ogden, a firefighter and EMT 2 medic for Kachemak Emergency Services and the network security administrator for South Peninsula Hospital, had signed up two weeks earlier with the Red Cross for a 10-day deployment, but hadn’t yet been given an assignment. He was expecting to be sent to the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.
“When they called me they were like, ‘Tomorrow morning you’re going to Vegas,’” he said.
It was four days after the Oct. 1 shooting that left 59 people dead, including shooter Stephen Paddock, at the Route 91 Harvest festival on the Las Vegas Strip, and Ogden said the level of coordination going on by local hospitals, the Red Cross and the FBI was unparalleled.
“I was following it in the news,” Ogden said. “I just had no idea I’d be sent there.”
For a short time, Ogden was sent to work in the Las Vegas Convention Center. From there, he was placed on a three-person hot-shot crew. He worked in three local hospitals as well as provided care in people’s homes. Those who were medically cleared to leave the hospital and lived close enough were sent home as soon as possible to help with overcrowding in the hospitals, he said.
“The hospitals were extremely full,” he said. “…They would shuttle these people through and after they came out of surgery, if they were stable enough, they were sent home so that the rooms in acute care could be left open for the people that seriously needed it. And on top of that they had their regular influx of people.”
Ogden met two other groups of people from Alaska while in Las Vegas. It was nice to make that connection while he was there, he said. He had been to Las Vegas once before years ago and recalled it had seemed impersonal then. It was a completely different city when Ogden arrived to help.
“Everybody was friends with everybody,” he said of the shooting’s aftermath. “Everybody was working towards a common goal. I mean, you saw a lot of … the stories that were coming out. I have about 200 stories of people’s just heroism, you know, just helping out other people that they had no connection with. … I think that kind of echoed through Vegas.”
Many of the injuries caused by the attack were broken limbs due to the stampede caused by the fleeing crowd. Ogden described one police officer whose leg was broken during the chaos but who kept working to direct people out of harm’s way.
Ogden treated 19 people while in Las Vegas, all but one of whom ended up living. Eighteen of those patients had suffered gunshot wounds. He said his training as an emergency medical technician with KESA was useful in terms of being able to handle the stress and focus on the patients in such a trying situation.
The Las Vegas shooting was rated by the Red Cross as a level nine in terms of mental difficulty, Ogden said. There were some Red Cross volunteers who had to turn back upon arriving in Vegas, he said.
It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth day of his deployment when he visited the memorial set up for shooting victims and their families at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign that Ogden said the reality of the Vegas shooting really started to set in. There he saw crosses that had been erected and covered in the names, photos and stories of each victim.
“That was kind of surreal to visit,” Ogden said. “Part of me wishes that I hadn’t gone because it was very emotional for me, because I had seen some of the people and there was a lot of the folks’ families that had loved ones that passed away that were there, and everyone’s crying. It just made it that much more real.”
Ogden said that while he was at the memorial, a man recognized that he was a first responder and handed him a small cross as a sort of thank you gift. It’s still hanging in Ogden’s car.
Since he’s come back, Ogden said the Red Cross has followed up with him to make sure he’s processing the events of Vegas appropriately. He’s been OK for the most part, he said, save for a flashback he had back in Alaska. His family has a little ranch and cuts their own beef, Ogden said.
“When I was working on one of the sides of beef, I had a little bit of a flashback that was surprising,” he said. “I’ve dealt with that sort of thing in my past, I just didn’t expect it I guess.”
One thing that was really impressed upon Ogden during his time in Vegas was the “raw commradery” he saw playing out among people there following the shooting.
He sees the way citizens and first responders came to people’s aid as a model for how to go about doing that in his day job — that is, selflessly.
“They didn’t care about sex, or religion, or skin color. There was just 100 percent people helping people,” he said. “I guess that went a long way to restore my faith in humanity.”
Another of Ogden’s main takeaways from his experience in Vegas is a strong opinion about how mass shootings are treated.
“I feel like when these events happen in the United States or anywhere, I feel like it’s really important that the media do what they can to focus on the heroism in the moment of the people that are helping other people, and try and take that focus away from the people that are perpetrating the crimes,” he said. “Because I feel like that kind of gives them power.”
The important thing to focus on going forward, in Ogden’s opinion, is the resiliency that people show in the face of adversity.
“That to me is the real human story, and the most important takeaway,” he said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.