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Paramedic Steve Little and EMT Robert Hamilton, both personnel with Cox Ambulance-Ava, were dispatched to Joplin Sunday evening immediately following the deadly tornado that destroyed a third of the town.
Little said Wednesday morning that he has responded to lots of mass casualty incidents in his career, but never has seen anything even close to what they encountered in Joplin.
The two medics from Ava were contacted at 6 p.m. and immediately drove to the Springfield Fairgrounds where they met up with other ambulance crews.
From there it was straight to Joplin, and for the next eight hours they never turned off the engine or the emergency lights.
As part of Strike Task Force 3, the Ava crew was sent directly to Joplin’s St. John’s Hospital that was totally evacuated. Since they were operating an Advance Life Support unit, they picked up the more critically injured patients and transported them to Springfield hospitals – hauling two or three at a time – which meant the medic in the back of the unit stood or sat in the floor.
Little said five or six medical helicopters were on rotation and were in the air and on the ground all night long. “There never was a time you didn’t hear a chopper,” he said.
Patients were taken to Carthage, Pittsburg, Kan., Tulsa, and other hospitals. The critically injured were taken to Cox South and St. John’s in Springfield. Less seriously injured were taken to Cox North in Springfield, some by school buses.
Little said he has no words to describe what they saw when they turned south from 7th Street in Joplin and headed into the destroyed area. It was so dark, one could not tell east from north, he said.
The triage areas looked like what one might expect in Afghanistan or Pakistan, he said, with patients on the floor, on portable cots…anywhere and everywhere.
Little said he and Hamilton discussed the situation as they drove to Joplin, but he said there was no way to prepare for what they would see when they arrived on the scene of the horrible tragedy.