On the night of October 1, 2017, a terrorist opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. He killed 58 people and wounded 422. Among the crowd of panicked onlookers, however, arose heroes from all walks of life—seven of those were active LAFD members that went above and beyond the call of duty that night. For such, they were presented with the Department’s highest honor—The Medal of Valor. Here are their stories.
Captain Ted Kalnas was among those at the Las Vegas Harvest Festival Concert. “We heard. . . fireworks,” he said, thinking the sound was part of the show at first, until witnessing people drop to the ground around him. Kalnas quickly began to guide those around him to safety. The closest cover they could get to quickly was the VIP grandstands, about twenty yards away. Even under the grandstands, they were still being shot at. It was dark and they couldn’t see, but didn’t want to turn on flashlights. They knew that people around them were hurt, and that several were killed. When the shooting subsided, the group moved on until finding a multi-casualty staging area. There, many of the people bandaging and triaging were concertgoers themselves. Kalnas’ girlfriend, Vedamay Bradford, a registered nurse, began to administer first aid, with Kalnas helping as well. Paramedics were being held outside. Kalnas said, “If it wasn’t for a half dozen of us who were bandaging, taping, and starting IV’s, there would be a lot more dead. It was a freak circumstance. No paramedics were coming in. We couldn’t leave all those people. We knew the risks, but we stayed.”
Captain Brett Kearns was approximately fifty yards behind center stage, when he saw people running towards him, many of them falling and getting trampled. At first, he thought they were panicking for no reason. With the second volley of shots, Kearns realized there was a shooter. A small group of young girls in front of him were crying and screaming, and he shouted at them to lie on the ground. An older gentleman near him said he was shot. Kearns went to him, lifted his shirt and found a hole in his right flank. “I reassured him that he would be fine, but we eventually would need to exit the area. I had to continue to yell at the young girls to stay down and cover their heads. This is one of the hardest things for me, looking back, because I can’t imagine how scared they were.” Estimating the timing of the volleys of shots, Kearns soon led his group to cover. Captain Kearns overcame his own fear to guide others to safety, and his quick thinking and leadership saved many lives.
When Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Mandahl and his girlfriend initially heard the first shots ring out, they didn’t recognize it as gunfire. As the second volley erupted, they were immediately trampled by people sprinting for the exits. Bullets from automatic gunfire were striking the bleachers, signposts, and people running. During a break in the gunfire, Mandahl and his group ran to the now-abandoned vendor and food truck area, where they came across a makeshift triage zone. Mandahl immediately set to work, providing CPR to a male victim until he was transported away in a wheelbarrow. The firefighter/paramedic then turned his attention other seriously injured and critical patients, assisting others with care. According to witnesses, “While others were running away from the bullets hailing down on us, Michael ran into the hailstorm to help others.” Firefighter/Paramedic Mandahl stated, “That was absolutely the craziest day of my life. I just pray that I was able to make a difference.”
Firefighter Nicholas Shrode attended the concert with his family. When they realized the shooting was real, they ran for cover under the stage. Shrode was separated from his family in the confusion. Realizing he couldn’t find his family, he tried to help others in all the panic. He came upon a group of three girls, one with a gunshot wound to her upper leg. He made a tourniquet with a pair of shorts to help control the bleeding. Eventually he found his father, with the two quickly finding another victim. The two carried an injured man to the triage area. They repletely went back into harm’s way looking for victims to assist. Once they were convinced that they had done all they could, they attempted to reunite with the rest of their family.
Firefighter Darin Crandell was 100 feet from his group of friends when repetitive and consistent gunfire began striking members in the audience. As the gunfire slowed, Crandell made his way to assist various victims. The first was a woman in her mid-twenties with a gunshot wound to her upper back area. Confirming that it was an entrance wound, he saw that she had severely labored breathing and needed immediate transport to a hospital. As there were no ambulances available, Crandell and a bystander loaded the young woman into a nearby vehicle, giving instructions to the driver to transport her to the nearest trauma center. As he returned to the gate where he had exited, he found approximately twenty victims on the sidewalk, each with a variety of gunshot wounds. He triaged patients, adjusted tourniquets, and commandeered personal vehicles to transport patients. “I am truly grateful for my experience with the LAFD, as I feel it kept me calm through this event and hopefully allowed me to help save lives.”
Firefighter Anthony Cresta found himself a victim in need of protecting himself and his girlfriend, Taylor. Like many concertgoers, he didn’t identify the initial “pops” he heard as gunfire. But when the crowd began to race for the exits and one victim fell to the ground, he realized a shooting was underway. Cresta and Taylor first ran to a concession stand behind them, lying on the ground behind a large rolling trash can. After the first volley of shots, they could hear the snaps of nearby bullets landing. Adrenaline rushing, they encountered a group of their friends. Cresta led a group of six women and another man out of the venue, while helping others in the crowd who were being trampled. “As first responders, we are trained to help, organize, triage, and care for victims in need,” Firefighter Cresta says, in retrospect. “We haven’t been trained to be victims ourselves. Knowing what I know now, I realize there have been many occasions in which I could have done more to help others.” He continues, “It will take time to recover and heal, but we are taking the correct steps to do so.”
Engineer Robert Hays, his wife, and some friends were enjoying the music in Las Vegas. They had just left the grassy area and were entering the VIP Lounge when they heard a series of pops, followed by semi-automatic gunfire. After moving his wife and friends to safer cover, Hays returned to the lawn. He saw a young woman who had been shot in the head. A young man was with her. With gunfire still striking around them, Hays and the man carried the woman to the VIP tent, which Hays believed would be a safe triage area. As he passed his wife and realized she was still in danger, he shouted to her to get out. It would be six hours before they would see each other again. Hays eventually teamed up with a young EMT named Jano who offered to help. They worked together for the next few hours. After the local police and fire department arrived and determined the shooter was down, Hays insisted on staying to re-check casualties and help clear the area. “I was very impressed with the amount of people who were helping others — people don’t do what we do for a living,” he recalled. “It was a tough night, and I feel like I did the best I could to help people. Unfortunately, I came across too many victims who were already gone. I was just doing my job — the one I’ve done with the LAFD for the past twenty-nine years.”