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Leadership/Management

Las Vegas Shooting Responder Encourages Firefighters to Seek Counseling

May 11—An off-duty firefighter who sprang into action during last fall's massacre at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas—where a gunman killed 58 people and injured hundreds—spoke about his harrowing experience yesterday to a room full of Massachusetts firefighters and urged those struggling after bouts of trauma to get professional help.

Jesse Gomez, 45, a 15-year veteran with the Clark County Fire Department that encompasses Las Vegas and has jurisdiction over Las Vegas Boulevard, was at the country music concert Oct. 1, 2017, when Stephen Paddock began shooting from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Gomez was the keynote speaker yesterday at the A. Michael Mullane Health and Safety Symposium at Florian Hall in Dorchester. Gomez and other personnel from Clark County noted the importance of offering support for firefighters who experience trauma or have other medical or personal problems. Gomez said it took him more than four months before he sought help following the horrors he saw that night. "First of all, I'm not OK. It took me a while to admit that," Gomez said.

He was at the concert with his wife, Debbie, and other family members when shots rang out about 10:10 p.m. while performer Jason Aldean was on stage.

"The band, everyone, they don't know what's going on... And then you just hear more pop, pop, pop, and all of a sudden... Jason Aldean and his whole band takes off. Everyone at that moment knew what was going on—that someone was shooting," Gomez said.

Gomez jumped on his wife to protect her and the two began running when the gunfire briefly stopped.

"I just wanted to get out of there. I needed to get my family... At one point, there was a lady on the ground, and her head was bloody, and she was a mess... At that moment, my brain switched from running away to helping people," Gomez said. He and another person stopped and helped pick up the injured woman and placed her on a sidewalk when a nurse came over to help.

Gomez said he briefly became separated from his wife, but when he saw her next he was challenged with the biggest decision of his life.

"She's with my cousin's wife, and they're huddled behind our Tahoe and I hand her my keys. She's begging and she's crying, 'Please don't go. Please. Please. Please don't go.' She's holding onto my hand. She knew I had to leave but she didn't want me to go... It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do."

Gomez said that for more than an hour he and others carried wounded and injured concertgoers to safety. Gomez also called into dispatch to update his department with estimates of how many hurt and dead he thought there were at the concert.

Lt. Jim Campbell, a Stoughton firefighter, said of Gomez's story: "That was one of the bravest things I've ever heard... To go back in and save all those people, it's just an amazing feat."

Boston fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn said, "It's always good to bring in someone who has experienced something out of the ordinary to give you some insight on what went on and how best to deal with the situation and deal with the aftermath for your members who are feeling the pain and going through ... post-traumatic stress."

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