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October 23. 2013 11:05PM

Called, they didn't hesitate Ambulance crews honored for work at Marathon bombing

When the call went out for all available ambulances to respond to a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon last April, they never hesitated.

Yesterday, seven Granite Staters were among 46 first responders from Armstrong Ambulance Service honored at the company's Arlington, Mass., headquarters for their work that day.

But their greatest honor was meeting two of the survivors of the bombing, brothers J.P. and Paul Norden of Stoneham, Mass.

Each lost a leg in the bombing and both are still recovering from their injuries. Paul is walking again with a high-tech prosthetic limb; his older brother still uses a wheelchair while he continues to heal.

Richard Raymond, chief operating officer for Armstrong Ambulance, told those gathered that the work of private ambulance companies often goes unheralded. But when the call went out for help in Boston, he said, “No one said no.”

“You put your lives in jeopardy.”Paul Norden was looking for his brother at the finish line when the first bomb exploded. Almost immediately came the second blast. “I didn't even feel it,” he recalled.When he regained consciousness, he saw his leg lying apart from his body. That's the last thing he remembers; he awakened days later from a medically induced coma.

Liz Norden, the mother of the two men, tearfully thanked all the first responders, especially paramedics Sean Gelinas and Matt O'Connor, who treated her son Paul at the scene and rushed him to Beth Israel Hospital. “They literally saved our lives,” she said.

Merrimack paramedic Rodney Dunn and EMT/paramedic Scott McKinnon of Hudson had just finished transporting a patient when there was a report of an explosion in Boston. Then came word of a second explosion, with “40 to 50 people down on the ground,” McKinnon recalled.

At that point, he said, “People knew it was a terrorist attack.”

Responding to the scene, the two quickly loaded a young man in his 20s with multiple lacerations onto a stretcher and brought him to a hospital.

Paramedic Eric Hunter of Manchester was working an overtime shift, stationed along the marathon route at the corner of Beacon and Park streets. The emergency radio called for any available ambulance units to respond to Boston.

With the 9/11 attacks uppermost in their minds, what worried these first responders most was what might be coming next.

“I didn't know if this was just the beginning of another 9/11,” Hunter said. “I didn't know if I was going to go home at the end of the day.”

“If somebody is evil enough to put a bomb at the finish line, did they put some elsewhere?” Dunn asked.

When police put out a warning to stay away from garbage cans, for fear more bombs had been planted, Hunter said, “I remember looking at the trash can I had stood next to half the morning.”

“Basically, every backpack in sight was suspicious.”

Four days later, Hunter was dispatched to Watertown, where the manhunt for accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ended.Jacob Hanley, a paramedic from Hudson, was on a day off last April 15 when his pager buzzed. When he got to Boston, his ambulance was stationed outside Beth Israel Hospital. “There was a lot of police force, a lot of big guns.”

Manchester EMT David Cline also had the day off and was watching the news when word came of the attack. “I threw on my uniform and made my way down there.”

Cline is a Marine. “We do these things,” he said.

Dunn said meeting the Nordens meant a lot. “It helps put it in perspective, that what we do really does help people.”

Norden said he's grateful for the outpouring of compassion and support his family has received.

Asked how he keeps such a positive attitude after what happened to him and his brother, he replied, “I'm alive. There's three people that day that didn't make it.”

“I'm alive.”

swickham@unionleader.com


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