Orlando Fire Department Recordings Reveal Dramatic Scene Outside Pulse

Jun 21, 2016
Originally published on June 21, 2016 6:28 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There are still many questions about how law enforcement responded to the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. To get some answers, media organizations, including NPR, have asked for tapes of the 911 calls and other recordings. So far, authorities have not released that audio, only edited transcripts. Doing more, they say, would re-victimize the survivors. But one recording of that night has surfaced. And NPR's Martin Kaste says it paints a picture of emergency workers calmly trying to cope with chaos.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO DISPATCH)

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: This is the radio dispatch for the Orlando Fire Department, which includes emergency medical services. The recording was made by broadcastify.com. It's a company that streams radio scanners from around the country. It's missing the first hour of the attack, though. Broadcastify blames a server glitch. So when the recording starts at 2:57 a.m., the EMS units are already positioning themselves near the nightclub.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I have a ballistic vest here for any of our individuals that are entering the red zone...

KASTE: And there you can hear the new thinking in American EMS that medics should get closer to active shooter scenes, the red zone, even if it means ballistic vests. And at around 3:30 a.m., the danger seemed all around them as they got reports of a shooter at the nearby hospital where they were taking the patients, Orlando Regional Medical Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: This is RMC. We have the shooter currently inside RMC. We cannot take anymore. We're on lockdown.

KASTE: That report was later proved false. Then for the next couple of hours, things slowed down as police negotiated with the shooter by phone. The EMS incident commander, District Fire Chief Bryan Davis, used the time to keep fine-tuning his preparations - lining up rolling gurneys, arranging the vehicles and getting the units to count off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FIRE DISTRICT CHIEF BRYAN DAVIS: Engines 5, 1, 101...

KASTE: A few more victims trickled out of the club. And then a few minutes past 5, things suddenly started to move.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Chief, was that us?

KASTE: They could hear as the police used explosives and an armored car to bust through the club's wall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIS: That was a breach. That was a breach.

KASTE: But that didn't mean the danger was over. Thirteen minutes later, they were still hearing shots fired.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Man all units. Position of cover behind your apparatus. Position of cover. All personnel. If I can see your base, you're not in a position of cover.

KASTE: And then, finally, the flood of victims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: We've been given a total of - one, two, three, four, five patients. Where do you want us to go? I have one - two that are trauma alert and three stable.

KASTE: Those numbers kept rising. Within minutes, the EMS commander's careful plans for triage and transport started to yield to improvisation by the Orlando police.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVIS: OK, they had some victims come out. Apparently, OPD's loaded a few of them up in pick-up truck and just driven them directly to ORMC. We're trying to get them to come through treatment so that we can triage accordingly. So just be aware.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Check. I've had two arrive by pick up.

KASTE: And yet, on the radio, things remain professional as the scene commander quickly set up more triage and moved medics to where the victims were going. Forty-five minutes after the breach, the flood began to ebb. And EMS could start thinking more about their own safety again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Hey, we're being advised by OPD. They want us a thousand feet away from the scene. So we're going to break this thing down and go back to the original treatment area.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: Confirming you have no patients over there at this time?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: No patients. But they do want us a thousand feet away from the scene.

KASTE: They move back as the police swept the area for possible explosives or other attackers, threats that didn't materialize but which could easily have been there and what American rescue workers have now come to call the red zone. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.