New England Primate Research Center
Harvard Medical School
I was a volunteer EMT for medical course bus 12. My job was to pick up drop-out, infirm runners at the seven medical stations in Brookline and Boston and transport them to a finish-line escort bus. My team consisted of a HAM radio operator and a driver for our 12 passenger van, and I had ultimate authority over the bus staff. Before the bombs were discharged, we triaged and transported three patients, two of whom were runners who qualified for the event and the third was a US Army soldier who was raising money for a military charity by ‘rucking’ (walking in full combat gear and uniform) the 26.2 mile course.
Bus 12 had just finished it’s second loop from BC to Boston when the bombs were discharged.
The BAA command center didn’t send immediate notification of the blast, but our van radio luckily picked up the orders for all EMS personnel to abandon their posts and divert into boylston street for triage and staging. BAA command gave no word of the disaster for over forty-five minutes, and the runners continued down the course. Police were racing down the course route in their personal vehicles, driving as if they had their police sirens blaring, weaving in and out of the runners (who were still ignorant of the bomb attacks). It was unimaginable.
I was briefed on the medical logistics of the events, and I was aware that there was no released logistics documents for an emergent event of this magnitude. That said, I was not surprised that upwards of 45-minutes passed before BAA command center finally sent word of the disaster to all official personnel and introduced a make-shift emergency protocol for setting up emergency shelters to transport runners to. It was mismanaged utter chaos. Every medical station had a different idea of what the new protocol was and where shelters were located. Police were refusing entrance of runners to said shelters out of fear that they had more bombs, so forced relocations were made.
At this time, my team was diverted to drive the course in reverse, picking up runners to transport them to an emergency shelter at Boston College Law School. Bus 12 immediately filled up with scared runners. We headed for BC Law. My greatest fear was that one of my runners was going to crash en route to the shelter due to the lack of carbs post-run and that I wouldn’t be able to get an equipped ALS ambulance to rendezvous with due to the Boylston Street staging. I was suddenly responsible for the medical well-being of twelve runners in a chaotic situation - my level of comfort was thrown out the window in order to get these runners to safety. Every medical station hailed us down, only to order us to drop-off our runners at their tent, I had to enforce our BAA command and refuse to let the runners off the bus as we continued to the emergency shelter. The miscommunication between the medical buses and medical stations at this point was horrendous. At one point, I had to refuse an order from a medical station supervisor in order for our bus to continue onto the emergency shelter — putting my medical license in jeopardy.
My HAM radio operator was new to the field, working his first event, and froze up; he failed to report updates to my team regarding location changes of the shelter, so I had a bus full of runners going to BC Law when the shelter was relocated to the Newton War Memorial. Furthermore, riders on my bus became very concerned as we passed Mile 14, because there was FBI and the smell of discharged gun powder with police tape blocking off a small portion of the course. This is when my bus driver lost it emotionally and decided to ignore my orders to ‘get out of harms way’. To keep the bus en route, I was forced to threaten my driver to abandon his post by getting off the bus if he further refused direct orders; the driver proceeded to ignore my authority and asked the runners for their opinion on where they wanted to go; they all said to listen to me in order to get them to the shelter. Eventually, we made it to the Newton War Memorial shelter. Where there was no food and limited quantities of water and gatorade. At least three school buses and two twelve person vans full of runners were dropped off at this unequipped shelter.
This was my first time working at the Boston Marathon. It was utter chaos and an event to be remembered. I have seven years in the EMS field, and I’ve never experienced such chaos revolving around a mass casualty event. It was a great response by non-BAA personnel (Boston EMS / Police / Fire) given the lack of logistical preparedness, a forty-five minute delay from BAA command center to course staff is simply unacceptable given the event magnitude.
Jeanna E. Clark is a Primate Technician at Harvard Medical School’s New England Primate Research Center and a 2008 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High. She was a volunteer EMT for medical course at the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15.