Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 | 2 a.m.
When he saw people driving away in a hurry after bullets rained on a country music concert, Benjamin Kole gave an order: “Not one (vehicle) leaves without a patient, a victim.”
Although his wife begged him not to stay — “probably one the hardest decisions” he’s ever made — Jesse Gomez told her to leave and take an injured concertgoer to the hospital.
And even after he carried his wounded brother to safety, Anthony Robone returned to the killing field.
The three men are local firefighters but on Sunday were mere civilians enjoying a music festival — not worried about gunshots and not carrying any critical gear, such as radios.
But when the pops began, and continued for a harrowing 11 minutes, the first responders — along with civilians with no formal training — treated the wounded, triaged patients, set up impromptu staging areas and drove “bus loads” of injured to area hospitals.
Kole, Gomez and Robone were three of dozens of off-duty firefighters at the concert; 12 others were shot, two of them while they provided CPR, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters union.
On Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the worst mass shooting in U.S. modern history, the firefighters gathered at the Las Vegas Fire Fighters Union Hall to recount the difficult decisions — which included apologizing to the gravely wounded because “there was nothing we could do" and move on to the next victim, Kole said.
Like the accounts given by so many, they’d initially confused the cracks as “celebratory” fireworks during a Jason Aldean performance.
Kole was with a friend who is a corrections officer and when a second of about a dozen volleys initiated, “we knew it was something else.”
His friend knocked him to the ground and, seconds later, Kole realized that his daughter, Rachel Kole, who is employed by an ambulance company, was there working the concert.
The gunfire continued for several minutes, “but I never heard another gunshot” and he ran toward her location. Once they linked up and embraced each other, it was “time to get to work,” and they both continued to care for patients.
And regular citizens stuck around, listening to directions and staying calm and doing what they could, Kole said.
Jesse Gomez attended the concert with his family. The shots broke out and he realized that the sounds weren’t fireworks when the performers rushed off stage, “and they kept happening.”
As they ran, Gomez saw a woman bleeding from her head and he told his family to keep going, while he and others helped her out.
He called his wife to tell her he was going to stay behind. When Gomez met her in the parking lot, “she begged me not to go (back).”
But he did, and “he could have swore” the bullet impacts were getting closer, as if there was a gun battle a few feet away.
And he and another man “went back to work,” he said. “It was incredible how many people stayed to help.”
Civilians moved patients with tarps, trash cans, fences and “anything to carry people out,” Gomez said.
“It was very hard to walk around with someone with their loved one deceased and try to tell them that they have to move, that they can’t stay here, that they were in the line of fire,” Gomez said.
When the first rounds went off, Robone told his girlfriend that things were fine, but as soon as he determined “maybe this is gunshots,” he turned around to see that his brother was struck and that he was spitting blood.
His friend took his girlfriend to safety, and he and another friend carried his brother toward apparent medic tents. “The rounds seemed like they’d never stop,” he said.
After tending to his brother's wounds with make-shift bandages, Robone’s training “kicked in,” he said.
Robone said he saw many dead. “Unfortunately we couldn’t help at that time.”
But he also saw a community with civilians applying pressure to wounds and taking belts off, creating tourniquets, and the selflessness from patients with survivable injuries. “I was shot in the arm, I can wait … hey that person is shot in the head or that person is shot in the neck, let them go (to the hospital),” Robone said they told first responders.