Horrific Scene Takes Toll on Sandy Hook Responders
By LEE HIGGINS
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News
NEWTOWN, Conn. -- For Ray Corbo, first assistant fire chief at Newtown Hook and Ladder, the horrific images from Friday's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary have taken a toll.
There was the Newtown police officer who ran by him in the school's parking lot, carrying a boy, limp in his arms.
"The police officer's uniform had blood all over it," he said.
There were the teachers, who despite the chaos, kept order as they led their students away from the school building to the Sandy Hook firehouse.
"Every few minutes, you'd see one class of kids with a teacher and a police officer, all holding hands coming down the street to the firehouse. A lot of them were visibly upset. A lot of the kids were crying."
And there were the parents that flocked to the Sandy Hook firehouse, anxious for news about their loved ones.
"There was nothing I could do for a hysterical parent that was looking for their child," Corbo said. "Parents were coming from every direction. They were abandoning their cars and running to the scene. You could see the panic on their faces."
Now, Corbo and 13 other volunteers from his department are left to process the scenes from a shooting rampage that left 27 people dead. A debriefing was being held Saturday afternoon at the Sandy Hook firehouse, where counselors, clergy and police are expected to be on hand to talk about the incident and answer questions.
"I think it's important," said Corbo of the debriefing. "Everybody leaves the scene with a lot of questions, and if you can get those questions answered, it makes it a lot easier."
Corbo and his colleagues were dispatched at 10 a.m. Friday and assisted Sandy Hook firefighters, setting up a second triage area, roughly 300 yards from the school in a parking lot behind the Sandy Hook firehouse. Corbo worked at the command post about 100 feet in front of the school building, where the first triage area was set up.
He knew early on there were numerous gunshot victims, he said. But there were few to treat. He only saw one other victim -- a woman with a gunshot wound to her foot.
"We had a huge area waiting for many victims and there was one," he said. "At some points, you're wishing that it was full of people that are alive."
Firefighters will depend on each other to get through the tragedy, said 40-year-old Corbo, a lifelong resident of Newtown, who is married and has a 7-year-old son.
"When you get into the work mode, you're at work," he said. "After the fact, you think about it and you can count on your brother and sister firefighters and that's who you talk to about it. Talking about it seems to help most people."
Jason Rivera, the department's chief, was working at his full-time job as a Stamford fire captain Friday morning but kept in touch with Corbo over the phone. He dealt with the stress of worrying about his colleagues without being at the scene to help early on.
"I just asked (Corbo) to keep me updated on the situation and keep our guys' safety and best interest in mind," he said. "There was a lot of conflicting information, a lot of unknowns. So, I wanted to make sure our safety was paramount."
Rivera, 35, whose department has 40 volunteers ages 17 to 55, who live or work in Newtown or Sandy Hook, responded to the Sandy Hook firehouse Friday night. He strongly encouraged colleagues at the scene to attend the debriefing. Rivera, a father of two young boys, said he stayed up late talking to his wife about the tragedy.
"It's the worst tragedy that I've ever seen in this town or I've ever personally been involved with," said Rivera, who moved to Newtown eight years ago because of its reputation as a safe community with excellent schools.
"It takes a toll on you. It's a very stressful situation. This is something that sticks with you for weeks, months the rest of your life."
He said it won't be easy for the community to move forward.
"It's gonna be a long road ahead. Everyone's gotta come together and mourn and work together to get through this."
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