"In current disaster response education, there is virtually NO guidance or curriculum geared towards the Immediate Responder. I am passionate about changing that."
Christina H. Hernon, M.D.
Emergency Physician & Medical Toxicologist
Immediate Responder at the Boston Marathon Bombings,
Creator of ImmediateResponder.org (28 October, 2014)
Why am I doing this?
On April 15, 2013, I was a volunteer physician at the Boston Marathon Bombings. Amidst the chaotic scene, I was surrounded by blood, glass, metal shards, acrid-smelling smoke, anguish, and uncertainty. I did not feel safe, and I thought I might die.
I cared for many people in many ways - triaged, bandaged, removed clothing, performed patient assessment, reassured & moved patients, helped coordinate other impromptu rescuers, and looked out for the safety and well-being of other volunteers.
As an Emergency Physician who started volunteering as an EMT on an ambulance as a teenager, I had attended many, many hours and courses on emergency response, mass casualty incidents, disaster response, incident command, traumatic injuries, and more. Despite my extensive training, I got as far as, "Is the scene safe?", and realized that NO, no it was not safe. I was in and surrounded by mayhem, smoke, biohazard, sharp objects, terrified patients and bystanders and the risk of a criminal or terrorist amidst us. Where was the training on how to proceed in this situation? I was already IN the scene; there was no option to, "Wait until the scene is safe." before entering. I chalked it up to the fact that a disaster is a disaster, and moved on.
After the event was an extraordinarily challenging experience. Although the general public and media broadly offered praise for the "first responders that ran right into the scene", there is a reality that was not included in the discussion. A First Responder is someone, like Police, Fire, & EMS, who is on duty and responds into a scene with a clear mind, to bring calm to the chaos, whether a house fire, heart attack, intoxicated driver, or a bombing. I've been a First Responder. If you ask any First Responder if a group of volunteer physicians, nurses, medical students, physical therapists, and massage therapists are first responders, or the bystanders on the street, you will likely be told, "absolutely not". I do not disagree with this, as the heroism of a First Responder requires dedication, training, preparation, and honorable selflessness, and the term should not be applied to just anyone. However, there IS something special about the people, trained or non-trained, who immediately step up amidst chaos to try to protect or care for another victim. They are certainly more than "bystanders" because they certainly do not just "stand by".
After experiencing, first-hand, what it is to be neither a bystander nor a first responder at the Boston Marathon bombings, I identified a glaring gap in the way we teach people about being present at the very moment a disaster or incident goes down. It has become my passion to define, explain, and convince people of the importance of the concept of "Immediate Responder". This website is one of the mechanisms I am using to spread the word, in order to give better care to the critically injured in the seconds and moments after their injuries, as well as to the impromptu rescuers who offer great potential for life-saving care, but may be vulnerable to challenging risks and after effects related to their service.
For the past 2 years, I have been trying to put words to and understand and this feeling, and this group of people. It is time to add a new vocabulary word to the world of emergency response and disaster medicine...that of "Immediate Responder".
On a personal level, this is what I would say to anyone who identifies with the role of Immediate Responder:
Yes. Yes, you did enough. You did the right thing, given the circumstances, and you certainly DID make a difference.