Auburn firefighter hailed in Vegas massacre: 'You saved my daughter's life'

Dean McAuley (KOMO Photo)

AUBURN, Wash. -- An off-duty firefighter from Auburn is being credited with saving the life of a teen girl who was wounded among the mass shooting in Las Vegas Sunday night.

Dean McAuley with Valley Regional Fire Authority was at the Route 91 concert with several friends enjoying the Jason Aldean concert.

"We started moving toward the center of the stage. Jason Aldean was out, and the crowd was just having a really good time," McAuley said during a 30-minute news conference Wednesday recounting the horror of the night.

"Then pops started happening, and it sounded like fireworks," he said. "It took me about 3-4 seconds to know it wasn't fireworks."

He put his arms around his friends and told them to get down.

"So we got down and a lot of people started getting down and we started to hear some screaming," he said. "As soon as (Aldean) pulled his guitar off and was scrambling to get off stage, you could see sparks hitting the stage as well. Bullets were ricocheting. It was very clear it was an automatic weapon, and we could not determine where it was coming from."

At first it sounded like there were three active shooters from above, in the middle of the crowd and behind the stage. Many were aimed at the walk out area, "and they were just ricocheting off and hitting people."

He said people were trying to move in groups. "Just chaos and you could see people dropping, and you could hear people screaming," he said.

'Thousands of heroes there'

While on the ground, Dean McAuley reached for his phone and called a close friend who was a retired FBI agent and a trained U.S. marshal to ask for help.

"I said: 'We're on the ground, we have an active shooter and it sounds like it's getting closer to us,' " McAuley said. His friend replied to stay down and, knowing there would be a break in the gunfire, to seek shelter once the shooting stopped.

"As soon as there were was a break, we got up, but the break was very minimal. Knowing what we know now, (the gunman) was probably switching guns and started (shooting) again and we went down.

"We could still see people coming our direction trying to get out, and you could see people dropping."

At the next break, he and his friends make a break for a semi truck parked alongside the stage, grabbed some large garbage cans and hid between the two.

"He continued to shoot, we could hear people screaming for medics; screaming for help. People were trying to get up over fences and there was nowhere to go -- these fences were so high and kids were climbing up on these fences and just getting picked off by bullets because they were just falling off the other side. You could hear what was going on," he said. "We pulled one girl into our group and we kept hearing: 'I need help, I need help!' "

But his friend on the phone urged him to not go with his instinct, told him to stay calm, stay put, take care of your friends.

"That was probably the hardest things I've ever experienced," McAuley said. "We're designed to help immediately."

They waited for another break and at that point, police were able to open up one side of fence. McAuley sent his friends with police toward the MGM hotel, and they called for him to go with them.

"I told him I can't, I have to go to work. I get to go to work, because I want to," McAuley said. "There's not a first responder there...that didn't want to go to work. If you want a title of a hero, there were thousands of heroes there."

'Let's Go'

McAuley went back to help even as tactical police officers at the scene made it clear the scene wasn't safe, as at the time it was believed there were multiple shooters.

But McAuley found the EMS tent, asked for gloves, then he and another off-duty firefighter went back out to help victims.

They found one girl on the ground, created a makeshift backboard out of particle board and got her back to the tent, where they were by now separating the dead from those still alive.

They were warned again there were multiple shooters believed out there and scene wasn't safe.

"It's a moment there I will never forget; looking at this off-duty firefighter -- I don't know his name -- and we just both looked at each other and said, 'Let's go.' "

"We went out and emptied a big garbage wheelbarrow and came across another wounded victim. We loaded her into it; she had a pulse so we felt she was saveable, and raced her back to the tent," he said. "At that point, the floor in the tent was something out of a war movie; lots of blood and lots of bodies."

He heard a medic yell that she needed help with an IV line. He went over to find a wounded 17-year-old girl Natalia Baca and help get her IV line in.

"Her pulse was racing, but she was extremely calm," he said.

He determined she had been shot and there was no exit wound.

"I became concerned about internal bleeding and she was having a hard time breathing -- and as calm as she was she was in shock," McAuley said. "So I asked her to trust me and that I wouldn't let anything happen to her."

But she needed to get to a hospital. He was told by someone in the tent to head to a parking lot where there would be ambulances. The teen was able to walk so they made the journey together, IV still in her arm, only to find the parking lot was devoid of ambulances. Only a locked up police wagon and EMS Suburban was to be found. He set her up on an abandoned lawn chair, and she asked him to call her parents.

"So I pulled my phone out and said 'give me a number,' " McAuley said. "Her dad answered, and she was so calm and cool and said that 'I've been shot and I'm with a firefighter and I'm going to be OK.' So I grabbed the phone and I said: 'Sir, I've got to go, I will text you once I know what hospital we're going to.' and hung up."

At that point, a man in a cowboy hat came up to them and said: "What can I do for you?"

"I told him I need a car. There was one car out in the parking lot way out by itself and I see this gentlemen running toward it," McAuley said. It turned out to be one of the concert stage hands.

"I told (the cowboy): 'I need that man, I need that car and I need him over here. I don't care what you have to do but I need him!' "

The man sprinted over to the driver and the car came over. They loaded the teen into the backseat and raced to the hospital.

"I asked (the driver) to find an ambulance and chase it. Travel in left lane so we can break the lights," McAuley said.

They were diverted en route because the main trauma center was overwhelmed so they headed to nearby private hospital instead.

"We had bodies, lots of bodies"

"Natalia started saying she was going numb and tired and IV was coming out," he said, noting that it was understandable at the high rate of speed they were traveling. "I held on to IV as best I could."

He pulled out his phone and began showing her pictures of him and his family, and talked about Jason Aldean and their other favorite country singers to keep her mind off the her injuries.

"We developed this remarkable bond in the back of this car," he said.

When they arrived at the hospital, they found it overwhelmed.

"Best way I could describe it was just like a blood bath," he said.

They got her to a wheelchair and handed her off to a nurse. Then it was time to get back to work. He went back to the front to help with the stream of victims coming in via ambulance, Ubers, taxi cabs, and private vehicles.

"We had bodies, a lot of bodies,"' he said. They had to figure out who could be saved because a number had already died en route.

"One pickup truck, I'll never forget two people.... A husband who was handing me his wife saying 'She's fine, she's fine, you just have to get her in there.' I had to check pulses and she didn't have a pulse. That was the moment...that was really tough."

He spent the next few hours working with others getting patients out of private cars and getting patients off ambulance gurneys onto hospital gurneys so they could send the ambulances back out for another run. While there, he ran into a retired Seattle Fire Department medic and they decided to head back to the shooting scene to try and help more.

Once they arrived, police told him there were no more viable patients out there and they needed to get to a locked down hotel as they feared shooters were still on the loose.

McAuley eventually flew home to Seattle and made sure to give a big hug to his wife. Soon after, he got a text from a Las Vegas area code.

It was Natalia's father.

"The text said: 'You saved my daughter's life, can you please call me?' In that moment, there was a bright spot for me because I had been thinking about her -- we had a connection hear she was alive and that she made it was everything to me. That could have been my daughter, my son, my loved one and to hear that from her father, it makes you feel like you did your job because at the time I was having a hard time that I wasn't doing enough, that I couldn't go back in."

He called the father back and he asked that McAuley send him a video to show to his daughter.

McAuley has yet to meet Natalia. "I hope someday I can wrap my arms around her and give her a hug, probably cry with her a little bit," he said.

But Natalia was able to talk to an ABC News crew from her hospital bed about her firefighter hero.

"Dean was an amazing guy. He stuck with me the whole night and I just give him full props for actually saving my life," she told ABC's Good Morning America. "He could have not acknowledged me in that tent, he was just a volunteer that was taking his time out of that night and saving people’s lives and he didn’t have to but he is a very strong man and his family should be very proud of what he’s doing."

According to ABC, doctors said Natalia is stable but she has a tube draining blood from her rib cage. The bullet shattered inside her body near the shoulder, and doctors said they are concerned because it punctured her lung and she will likely need surgery. Her twin sister Gianna was also wounded but survived.

Meanwhile, McAuley says he hopes people can focus on those who came together.

"I really hope that people get out of this is... there was one bad person, there were 30,000-plus amazing human beings, incredible human beings," he said. "There's so much negativity in this world; and I hope that's not what people get out of this -- there were some remarkable people working together doing things -- total strangers helping each other; people with no training wanting to help each other. We all became one that night.

"There's a lot of love in his world and a I got to see humanity in action. I got to see one person at their worst, but I got to see humanity at its best. We had hundreds of people willing to put their life on the line and get out there and help."

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