The first responders who raced toward the finish line after two bombs exploded at Monday’s Boston Marathon included 151 volunteers from the Massachusetts Region 4A Medical Reserve Corps, doctors and nurses who expected to be helping runners with more typical and minor injuries get medical help.
Instead, the medical personnel who had been stationed a few blocks from the finish line heard the explosions and ran toward smoke and screams, some pushing empty wheelchairs, to help the seriously injured. The volunteers came from communities outside Boston, roughly bounded by interstates 95 and 495.
“They ran up and got the people to the medical tents,” said Liisa Jackson, coordinator for the Region 4A unit. “It was pretty chaotic.”
A total of about 200 volunteers were on the medical sweep team, given the task of sweeping injured or ill runners into the medical tents. Some of the others came from around the country.
“All of us didn’t know whether our lives were at risk as well,” Jackson said. She panicked because her daughter was with the girl’s father, closer to the finish line. Both turned out to be fine.
The Medical Reserve Corps is a national group that was created after another tragedy connected to Boston -- the 9/11 terror attacks – as a way to quickly mobilize public health teams in emergencies. The Region 4A unit was established in 2005.
Now Jackson and her group are working with the Boston Athletic Association and the Mass Support Network to make sure the volunteers who helped injured runners and bystanders Monday get emotional help they may need in the coming weeks.
“This is such a traumatic event and the things the volunteers saw and had to attend to will certainly have some effects on them emotionally,” she said. “I want to make sure they have all of the services needed to cope with what has happened.”
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kathleenburge.