EMS professionals faced danger in hopes of saving lives at Calif. school shooting

The International Association of EMTs and Paramedics said the first responders chose to forgo body armor in order to quickly treat and transport wounded students


Even though Santa Clarita is the third-largest city in LA county, it is still a very close-knit community. First responders were not only responding to students, during this incident. In some cases, they were responding to immediate family. Learn more about the elements that complicated the operational response in this analysis by EMS1 columnist Rob Lawrence

By EMS1 Staff

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — EMS professionals responding to the Saugus High School shooting Thursday acted without securing body armor and went to work immediately after assessing the severity of the situation.

Paramedics were called to Saugus High School at 7:40 a.m. Thursday morning in response to an active shooter, arriving on scene a mere two minutes later.

Student Sayla David, 12, holds thank you signs for first responders outside the Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Student Sayla David, 12, holds thank you signs for first responders outside the Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Juan Ortiz and his partner Sara Valenzuela, both veteran EMTs and members of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics (IAEP) Local 77, were the first to respond and quickly called for more units upon discovering that four or more victims needed medical attention.

Ortiz and Valenzuela attempted to establish a triage staging area but upon hearing of the severity of victims’ injuries, they made the call to move in without awaiting proper protection.

Under the guard of Santa Clarita law enforcement officers, Ortiz and a fire medic entered the “hot zone” where the shooter was known to be at large while Valenzuela retrieved backboard supports from their emergency vehicle. 

Ortiz and his assisting paramedic stabilized and extracted a male student who had been shot in the abdomen.

“We picked him up quickly and got escorted out of there. With only one squad, one ambulance and one engine arriving to triage everyone it was chaos.” said Ortiz.

Valenzuela drove as her partner and their assisting paramedic attempted compressions on route to the hospital, but despite their expedient efforts, the student did not survive his injuries.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to our members, their families and the community of Santa Clarita.” said IAEP National Director Philip Petit. “These professionals should be proud and highly acknowledged for their fast, decisive action in response to the tragic events at Saugus High. IAEP certainly recognizes their efforts and dedication, and we hope AMR (American Medical Response) management will do the same.” 

Many of the first responders called to action that day had deep ties to Saugus. Some, like Valenzuela, had several friends and even family who currently attend the school.

Jacob Moeller, brother to a 2017 Saugus graduate and responding EMT also supported the decision to act fast, saying, “Despite the chaos and potentially reckless response on our part going in without body armor, I believe it was the right choice. Had we all been forced to stage out and wait, some of the victims may not have had a fighting chance.”

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