Paramedic: 'God was with us' at 'horrific' disaster
By Diane M. Bitting
Lancaster New Era (Pennsylvania)
Copyright 2006 Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.
Lancaster, Pa. — Amid the horrific aftermath of the shooting of Amish children their school, paramedic Andrew Gilger heard a fellow responder say something that still made sense to him despite the senselessness of it all.
"God was with us while we were taking care of those kids," he recalled hearing a co-worker say.
"That's what I fall back on personally," says Gilger, director of operations for Lancaster Emergency Medical Services.
When LEMSA got the call to West Nickel Mines School Monday morning, the agency's mass casualty trailer was deployed, something that has never happened before, says Gilger. "We knew something really bad had happened," he says.
Still, with 20-plus years in the emergency business, "your training kicks in," says Gilger. "You kind of go on auto pilot. You know what you have to do. You know what the priorities are."
After administering the basics — checking on her airway and starting an IV — he moved her to one of the waiting helicopters.
He does not know the girl's fate.
What was going through his mind?
"At that point you're doing your job," says Gilger. "For me personally I climb into a mode of automatically doing what I have to do. That's the way I am. You don't really sit down and think about it until afterward. There's no making sense of it. ..."
Afterward, he and others who had worked to save the lives the Amish schoolchildren participated in a group debriefing session with members of the county's Critical Incident Stress Management team. It was a time for them to vent.
"For me, I have a faith that I can fall back on," says Gilger, a member of Lancaster's Sunnyside Mennonite Church.
He adds, "I figured out from early on that you're gonna see stuff that nobody was meant to see. You're going to be part of the worst moments and the best moments of people's lives.
"How I deal with that personally, my faith, has a large part in how I deal ... I can't own it. I can do what I've been trained to do and do it to the best of my ability. If it means that I save a life or that life is lost, that's out of my hands."
From all his years as a paramedic, "I have a lot of pictures in my head I haven't gotten rid of. They'll always be there," says Gilger.
But this scene threatens to be the most vivid. It was, he says, "absolutely the most horrific thing I've ever been a part of."
Still, he praises all the fellow emergency workers who responded Monday, saying they did "an incredibly good job" in a "horrific situation."