Paramedic: Tornadoes forced tough choices to save lives - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Paramedic: Tornadoes forced tough choices to save lives

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- An emergency responders' cardinal rule for saving lives is that second chances come by saving seconds.

Lt. Duane Schermerhorn didn't have that on Tornado Wednesday, April 27.

"Many times it took us hours to get to patients we knew about," he says.

"Crews literally had to cut their way in."

Schermerhorn heads a crew of paramedics from Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga. What they saw in Apison that night, redefines the word 'overwhelming.'

"We would see patients that were in the same house, that were in the same room; and there was no rhyme or reason why one person came out with minor injuries, and one was critical, or one of the 'walking wounded,' he says.

Apison Elementary School served as the staging area, or hub for help.

Eyewitness News cameras got inside briefly that night. But we couldn't show you the triage; the classifying of who would get care first, and who, though still alive, would be 'black-tagged.'

"You're literally deciding whether somebody is going to live or die to a certain degree," he says.

"I mean, you've made that decision based on your knowledge and your expertise--no matter what, that patient's not gonna survive--and you have to do the best, for the most number of patients."

Success means 'working in the moment', he says. Detaching yourself from your emotions to get the job done.

"There's always gonna be instances after the fact when you think about things."

They know that at the Apison Baptist Church. Two weeks and two days later, rebuilding supplies keep coming, from the American Red Cross.

'Responder fatigue' is a reality, Pastor Bob Dasal says.

"Now that people are realizing the enormity of what's happened to them, it's heightened the spiritual concerns about what's really important in life, and how we should give priority to the important things."

Crises often force people to confront their life-choices, to reconsider, even leave their professions.

But Lt. Schermerhorn believes the tornadoes are an affirmation, a re-confirmation of why he's a paramedic. Especially, when he recalls the Alabama boy whom an ambulance crew took from Marion County, to Erlanger Medical Center.

He was 5 years old, he was hurt pretty bad, and he was scared," Lt. Schermerhorn says.

"And a paramedic who was with him actually sang to him the entire way to Chattanooga to calm him down."

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