Thursday, Nov 27, 2014

St. Pete firefighter helped wounded minutes after Boston blasts

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Published:   |   Updated: April 17, 2013 at 07:33 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Moments after the blasts, Jim Cunningham stumbled on a half-dozen injured people. One woman had lost her left hand, while a blast flash had singed the hair of a young girl, who was maybe 3-5 years old.

The St. Petersburg firefighter, who was in Boston Monday to cheer on his wife in the marathon, started running triage, showing bystanders how to staunch the blood flowing from the wounded’s legs.

One by one, he took their hands and placed them on the victims’ femoral arteries, to keep them from bleeding to death. Once a volunteer’s hand was pressed into someone’s groin, the 28-year firefighter moved on to the next person needing help.

Cunningham and his 13-year-old daughter, Ann, were making their way to the finish line, to welcome his wife with cheers, when they heard the first explosion. It was about 50 yards away.

At first, Cunningham, 48, thought it was a transformer or generator, but there was a plume of grey and white smoke, and spectators had started running.

Then there was a second blast this one about 15 yards away and Cunningham went to work.

“We’re the kind of guys who run in,” not out, Cunningham said during a Tuesday press conference at a St. Petersburg fire station, where he told his story.

Cunningham made sure Ann was safe in the lobby of the nearby historic Lennox Hotel.

Then he rushed into the chaos.

With the sound of approaching sirens in the background, people lay wounded in the street in a state of shock. Others were screaming.

“There were people taking off their shirts, making tourniquets out of their clothes,” he said.

The ambulances started arriving by the time Cunningham had finished working with the first three victims, and then he let the paramedics take over.

Someone had already scooped up the girl, so Cunningham helped load the woman who had lost her hand into an ambulance.

Then his thoughts turned back to Ann, whom he could still see in the hotel lobby.

“Dad, you’re all bloody,” she told him when he reached her, tearing up as he poured water from someone’s water bottle to clean up.

Mary Cunningham was still running – nearly 3 miles from the finish line and unaware of what had happened.

Cunningham and Ann struggled to reach her. The local cell phone system was overloaded, and police had started putting up barricades. Cunningham had to sweet-talk his way through.

Finally, Mary Cunningham was able to get a call through to her husband.

“You’re not going to finish the race,” he told her. “There is no finish line.”

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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