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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Emergency workers heroes in Interstate 75 tragedy

Shands at UF went on red alert at about 5 a.m. Sunday, shortly after poor visibility from dense smoke and fog caused crashes involving about 20 vehicles that killed 11 people.

The hospital's emergency department received a flurry of calls from first-responders witnessing firsthand the Interstate 75 carnage.

Be prepared for mass casualties, they said.

Immediately, the Critical Care Center activated its emergency alert system.

"People mobilized from throughout the hospital," said Dr. Adrian Tyndall, chief of Emergency Services, "not just the emergency department."

Shands' Critical Care Center received 22 patients, said John Pastor, spokesman for UF/Shands Communications. Of those, 14 have been released and eight remained in the hospital as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Tyndall said four trauma surgeons, emergency physicians, nurses and other staff worked together to handle the emergencies and comfort those involved in the accidents.

"There was a lot of sadness given how significant this was," Tyndall said.

Despite that, Shands employees handled the situation like the emergencies they deal with every day.

Patients arrived in intervals, he said, and the emergency room atmosphere was calm and orderly.

However, he said, workers at the scene played the most important role: They were the ones checking to see who was alive, who could be rescued and who could not.

"The EMS personnel manning the frontlines were the heroes here," he said. "They saw something many never, ever see."

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Fortunately, Pastor said, the chaos of the crash site didn't translate to chaos at the hospital.

The alert lasted less than three hours, but the effects of the crash linger. If needed, doctors and nurses have resources such as counseling to help them.

Health care providers aren't immune to these situations, said Lisa Merlo, a psychologist and professor at UF's College of Medicine.

Like everyone, she said, they need time to rest and process their feelings.

"Medical personnel are still human beings," she said.

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