Thursday, January 7, 2010

Calif. paramedic recalls helping firefighters on 9/11

Sandra Bradley remembers giving breathing treatments to firefighters who were 'irrevocably lost'

By Judith Prieve
The East County Times

OAKLEY, Calif. — Sandra "Sam" Bradley has been a paramedic for 30 years and disaster responder for half that time, but she will never forget the night that she was asked to assist firefighters in the center of the ground zero digging operation.

The Oakley resident responded to what was known as "the pile" with a nurse to set up some advanced life support, and the area was considered sacred ground to Bradley and other rescue volunteers. Wearing a double-filter respirator, she and her partner were asked to descend into the hole.

"We were in fact in the deepest, darkest place on the planet at that time. We felt the same thing. We weren't alone," she said. "At one point, the firefighters walked up to the top and were looking down on us. The mist from the smoke was coming up around the firefighters. We knew that they felt that they had failed to do what they had went there to do."

Although experiences at ground zero were unique to each volunteer, Bradley said this was her most compelling moment. Bradley decided to share some of her stories at ground zero when she saw something in the Journal of Emergency Services magazine asking for contributors to a book titled "To the Rescue: Stories from Healthcare Workers at the Scenes of Disasters." She will talk about this book, which was published late last year, during a signing event at Barnes & Noble in Antioch from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Bradley is a self-proclaimed "disaster junkie" and has served as the training officer for the federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team, CA-6, for a decade. She is a field supervisor and instructor at Los Medanos College to EMTs and firefighters, but she said that no natural disaster was quite like 9/11.

About six weeks after she arrived at the scene of the disaster, Bradley remembers giving breathing treatments to firefighters who were "irrevocably lost"; she was concerned about their physical health as they were already suffering from respiratory problems because they refused to wear the proper breathing apparatus. Bradley was also worried about their emotional well-being.

"It was a pure obsession for them," she explained. "Physiologically and psychologically these people were never going to be the same."

After undergoing a lot of critical incident stress training in her career, Bradley said she knew that these dedicated firefighters would have been digging there to this day to give peace and closure to the families of the victims.

"It was so sad," she said. "We didn't only lose firefighters and the citizens. We also lost part of these people who were trying to make sense of all of it."

One positive thing that came out of Bradley's experiences is a relationship with one of the victim's family members that remains to this day. She and others on her volunteer team befriended the mother of a fallen Marine who was in his 30s and made him an honorary team member after attending his memorial service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in uniform.

They later discovered that he had attended UC San Francisco, which gave his story a local connection to Bradley's team of volunteers from California. He was also an artist and the team members went to a private showing of his work.

"He was an inspiration for us," Bradley said. "He was all of the New York firefighters to us. It reconnected us again."

For more information on the book, check out www.totherescuestories.com .If you go WHAT: Book signing for "To the Rescue: Stories from Healthcare Workers at the Scenes of Disasters" WHEN: 4 to 6 p.m. Jan. 9 WHERE: Barnes & Noble, 5709 Lone Tree Way at Antioch's Slatten Ranch COST: free INFO: More on the book at www.totherescuestories.com

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