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First responder: Pittsburgh scene was chaotic

Two first responders describe the scene at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue as a police SWAT team moved in to stop a gunman attacking worshipers.

Posted: Oct 30, 2018 8:56 PM
Updated: Oct 30, 2018 8:59 PM

Even as a police SWAT team moved in to stop a gunman killing and wounding worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, medical first responders were likewise rushing toward the gunfire to help the injured.

Two first responders -- both members of Pittsburgh's Emergency Medical Services -- talked with CNN's Anderson Cooper Monday night, describing the "chaotic" scene Saturday at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people were killed and six others wounded.

Lenny Weiss, an emergency medicine doctor with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and EMS crew chief Mark Pinchalk recounted how they found themselves working in the frantic life-and-death moments of what the Anti-Defamation League.describes as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

As a rampage raged

Weiss lives near the synagogue and told Cooper that he was alerted to the ongoing rampage first-hand. The staccato sound of gunfire jarred him from sleep.

"I woke up with what I thought was construction (noise), realized it was automatic weapon fire," Weiss said. After calling EMS dispatch he quickly went outside and saw his colleagues taking formation in neighboring yards.

Meantime Pinchalk had responded to a call for help and took operational command of the EMS efforts, forming a rescue task force of police and paramedics to move into what was still an active-shooter scene.

He said Weiss wanted to go in but was sent back as he was without ballistic protection. The physician instead established a command post just down the block to organize logistics.

'Chaotic' scene countered by training

Pinchalk's team of police and paramedics started moving to where casualties were believed to be.

"It was chaotic but we've been doing a lot of training on this, for this contingency, the last two years," he said.

"Our tactical medics attached to SWAT were actually the first ones in and started finding deceased, unfortunately. We found a couple of live victims that they treated very aggressively and extracted from the building.

"They worked their way to the third floor (of the synagogue) with the SWAT team and when SWAT came under fire and had a couple of casualties our tactical medics called us up for additional support so we moved in and they handed off the patients to us. We started treating and working on evacuating them," he said.

The suspect becomes an EMS subject

The alleged gunman, who authorities said surrendered to police after suffering injuries in the shootout, was treated by those who had rushed to the scene to aid his victims.

"After he surrendered we did have to provide care to him. It was a little hard for some of our younger guys. Legally, morally we have to provide the same standard of care to him as we do anybody else," Pinchalk said.

The suspect, identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers, was treated at a hospital and released for a court appearance Monday. Four police officers were also injured, with two still receiving hospital treatment Monday.

Despite the horror of the situation, both first responders praised the sense of community it had provoked.

"I think everyone's rallying -- I know people from the public safety community have been calling us up, providing us support and in the community here too I think everyone's formed a pretty tight bond around us," Pinchalk said.

"We are a very strong, peaceful, diverse community here. The biggest thing is when something happens we are ready to respond. We have physicians, we have medical professionals, paramedics that are highly trained to deal with these situations," Weiss commented.

"It's just a shame that we would ever to use this anywhere in our country let alone our town, our neighborhood," he said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1524527

Reported Deaths: 20751
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2077652558
Lake1010411517
Allen946081024
Hamilton73638551
St. Joseph65362761
Elkhart50026632
Vanderburgh48959530
Tippecanoe44411338
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Floyd16129257
Grant15566299
Morgan14615232
Boone13622138
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Shelby11877152
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Henry11771201
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Dubois11418152
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Switzerland201414
Martin191822
Warren179522
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Ohio125216
Unassigned0759

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 2496243

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2696772100
Cuyahoga2600613087
Hamilton1742641756
Montgomery1162791651
Summit1084961418
Lucas929121193
Butler82981963
Stark766321431
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Delaware40674220
Trumbull39527790
Licking38492416
Medina38487427
Fairfield35469349
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Portage32283366
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Richland29400444
Wood29143301
Allen25702403
Miami23931408
Muskingum23316255
Columbiana22903409
Wayne21965365
Tuscarawas19512428
Erie18531224
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Marion18456235
Scioto17888214
Ross17287260
Pickaway16251181
Hancock16004232
Geauga15456229
Lawrence14746186
Belmont14033248
Union1403384
Huron13838184
Jefferson13519261
Sandusky13180200
Athens12624107
Knox12037201
Seneca11934204
Darke11316202
Ashland11157184
Washington11009172
Auglaize10785147
Crawford10333178
Shelby10308160
Brown9972145
Fulton9661154
Highland9632151
Guernsey9612122
Defiance9486137
Logan9403147
Clinton9299132
Mercer9015112
Madison8971111
Preble8428170
Williams8263138
Putnam8024136
Champaign7974113
Ottawa7909123
Jackson7763121
Perry7415102
Coshocton7345136
Morrow723984
Fayette703292
Pike658489
Hardin6532133
Gallia634391
Adams6159127
Van Wert6025121
Henry598196
Hocking5835105
Wyandot498894
Carroll4961101
Holmes4857167
Paulding421665
Meigs397774
Monroe313868
Harrison296362
Noble295652
Morgan289448
Vinton254646
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