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Paramedic’s marathon service recognized

SHUTESBURY — It started out as just another day on the job for paramedic and Shutesbury resident Daniel Emerson. As an employee of Armstrong Ambulance, an Arlington-based emergency medical service, he’d worked at the Boston Marathon for years. There was no reason to think this time would have be any different.

As everyone knows, it couldn’t have been more different, with a terrorist attack that killed three people and injured an estimated 170 others at the race. Like most emergency workers in Boston that day, it’s a day Emerson likely will never forget.

“I’ve been a pretty seasoned paramedic for a number of years, but we had a lot of younger folks that had never seen the type of injuries that they saw, so the senior guys kind of put themselves out there to offer the younger guys emotional support and so forth,” said Emerson, 42.

“There was a lot of emotion,” he said. “It was a tough time, to see people at an event like that trying to enjoy themselves and then something goes wrong. People were just enjoying the Marathon. They came out to line the route and cheer the runners and the handicapped division on, and it’s a big day for everybody in Boston.”

Among the things Emerson said he will never forget is the way the emergency medical responders, police and firefighters rose to the challenge of the calamity. “Everyone just pulled together,” he said. “There wasn’t a second thought about the dangers that might lie ahead for us. Everyone just stepped up and went above and beyond.”

Two weeks ago, a ceremony at Armstrong’s Arlington headquarters honored Emerson and 45 other members of the ambulance team for their heroic efforts that day. Also at the ceremony were Paul and J.P. Norden, two brothers seriously injured by the blasts who were transported to the hospital by Armstrong paramedics Matt O’Connor and Sean Gelinas. It was the first time the brothers met with O’Connor and Gelinas since that awful day.

Emerson has been an emergency first responder for 15 years, eight of which have been spent with Armstrong Ambulance.

He started his career as an on-call firefighter in Shelburne Falls, but soon saw the need for EMTs.

“I took the class and it blossomed from there. I ended up going back to school and got my paramedic, and it ended up becoming my full-time career,” he said.

He said that his decision to enter the emergency medical field stemmed from his desire to help people in need, and that he was grateful to see emergency workers receiving recognition for their actions during the bombing.

“It was nice to have some people from the Statehouse there recognizing pre-hospital,” Emerson said. “It doesn’t happen very often, and it’s nice to have a little recognition.”

The company’s president, William F. Armstrong, expressed his appreciation for the work his employees and the Greater Boston Emergency Medical Service community had performed at the Marathon.

The ceremony was presided over by state Sen. Kenneth J. Donnelly and attended by state Sen. Katherine Clark and Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan, Fire Chief Robert Jefferson and Town Administrator Adam Chapdelaine.

Not a routine day

Stationed about three or four blocks away from the race’s Boylston Street finish line, Emerson, 42, and his partner, Eric Hunter, of New Hampshire, were in the middle of providing medical care to a spectator when they heard what he described as a “very loud gunshot or cannon,” which Emerson said he and Hunter initially thought might have been part of a local construction project.

Then, the calls for help began to ring out over his radio: There had been a “significant blast” at the finish line.

“We were far enough away that we had heard a little something, but we just thought it was construction,” Emerson said. “I didn’t know it was a bombing, but then the radios said there was a blast, and it was a pretty good assumption that something had gone terribly wrong.”

As was later revealed, the blasts had been the result of a terrorist attack that would bring Boston to a complete standstill for the better part of four days while authorities combed the city for the two brothers suspected of carrying it out, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of Cambridge.

Soon after the bombs detonated, Emerson was directed to a staging area by his supervisor, where he was instructed to provide support for Boston Emergency Medical Service crews and await further information. There, he said, he thought back to his training and about what could be happening, what he and his colleagues were about to go into and what they might see.

Within 10 minutes of the blast, Emerson said, about 12 of his company’s ambulances had converged on the staging area, where they supported other crews and helped relocate the area numerous times throughout the day.

“There were a bunch of ambulances there, and people were transporting the injured in and out through Boston EMS,” Emerson said. “We had to move the staging area around the city a bunch of times to different streets to be safe, because of the possibility of other devices that may have been found.”

Later, Emerson was sent to other parts of the race course to look for bystanders who might have been injured outside of the immediate scene of the attacks and to take some of the load off crews from other ambulance companies that had been overwhelmed by the number of patients in need of help.

“At a major incident like that, there’s people who wander a vast area, so we had to see if anyone was injured or needed medical assistance. My company transported patients to Beth Israel Hospital, though my ambulance personally did not transport anybody,” said Emerson.

Overall, he said, it was an emotional ordeal.

“We are proud to be a part of the Greater Boston EMS community, a group that proved it can stand together, Boston Strong, even in the most challenging of circumstances,” Armstrong said. “Our people dedicate their lives to serving others, and we are pleased to be able to show our gratitude to them at this event.”

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