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May 6, 2011

Paramedic describes response to Tenn. tornado


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — At the height of last week's devastating tornadoes, hundreds depended on first responders and medical personnel for life-saving help. For one man, used to taking to the skies to get victims to the hospital as quickly as possible, the storms kept him on the ground.

Robbie Tester says his crew put on many hats that night, searching for and saving as many victims as they could. He says it's hard because you always fear the next call may be for one of your family members or friends. But through the stress, concern, and chaos, they still always respond.

Last Wednesday, the storms so bad they couldn't even fly through them. Tester says, "There were numerous requests coming in for Lifeforce helicopters, but up until then we weren't able to fly because the weather was just so bad."

So Tester's crew of 6 took off on the ground instead, taking an ambulance to Dade County. Where, before they could help, they had to hide, staying safe through another storm. "We went in basement at city hall and waited it out, and you could see it going around trenton cause you could see debris falling from tornado."

As soon as it passed, paramedics went to work, searching for victims, seeing emotional injuries. "It's pretty much all trauma, the things you hear about but don't see very often, devastating blunt and penetrating traumas."

Tester says it was the worst local catastrophe he's ever seen. He says while they were prepared, there was still too many victims, across too many areas, to handle. "We cover 150 miles around Erlanger and all of our areas had some sort of devastation, so it was very unusual, something I've never seen."

After his crew rode back late in the night, they went straight to the Emergency Room to help there, where nearly 200 storm victims had arrived. "You don't ever want to see kids injured, and in this case you saw kids severely injured, a lot of death that really couldn't be done for anybody."

Reprinted with permission from WTVC.