SWAT medic who triaged San Bernardino victims also pronounced shooters dead
Ryan Starling went from SWAT to medic to firefighter as the San Bernardino shootings happened.
In his first television interview since the ordeal, Starling said that it was “divine intervention” that he and his squad happened to be fully suited up and doing one of their twice-yearly active shooter training drills, when the calls from the Inland Regional Center shooting came in.
Because they were already in their gear and had “our minds set,” Starling and his SWAT team shaved valuable minutes off their response, arriving at the scene in just 10 minutes.
The police department had cleared the room and insured that the shooters, later identified as Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, were no longer present, so Starling and his team entered.
“It was horrific,” Starling told ABC News.
The scene was chaotic, with the room’s sprinkler system going off after being hit by a stray bullet, the scent of gunpowder thick from the fired cartridges, and victims crying out for help. The room was still thick with gun smoke and a stream of water from the sprinkler system running out the door.
Starling and his team worked in conjunction with police officers on the scene, to make sure it was safe from further threats before beginning to separate the living from the dead.
“We don’t know how many shooters there were, we don’t know anything, so we’re going off of what we see and what we have and we have to adapt as it goes,” Starling said.
Starling began systemically triaging patients — 35 in total – using what was on his tactical vest – which is typically enough to treat one downed officer. He started putting white tape on the wrists of the deceased “so that I had my own indicator” and would not go back and re-check patients during the chaotic triaging process.
He didn’t have official triage tags on him at the time, but he improvised using tape from his medic bag that is typically used to hold IVs in place.
He had sheriff deputies shadow him and haul bodies out of the conference room.
“They were dragging patients out as quick as I could triage them,” Starling told ABC.
Because authorities believed at the time there were up to three shooters “outstanding,” ambulances and other rescuers were barred from the immediate scene. So Starling and his cadre of deputies began loading the wounded into patrol cars and the flatbeds of pickups.
Astonishingly, all the wounded were with medical staff within 15 minutes of Starling’s arrival. And every one of them, including the 14 in critical condition, survived.
“I knew I had a job to do I knew that for some reason I was there that day at SWAT training and been able to respond,” Starling said.
When he had done all he could, his SWAT team regrouped and headed for an off-site debrief. After, the departure, the team heard a pursuit was underway and shots had been fired. An officer was down. Clinging to the side of an armored vehicle – with his wife watching him on TV – he raced to the scene.
The officer suffered from a bullet to the thigh and was being treated at the scene. But for Starling, the chaotic day held one more momentous task.
“We just positioned our vehicles so that we’re safe… [We] approached the suspect and put him into handcuffs,” Starling said.
“I was the medic that they put on the radio that pronounced the suspects,” he said.
He had called the deaths on all 16 fatalities that day.
“It didn’t really hit me until I went home and when I was with my family and could finally de-stress.”
But, his shift wasn’t quite over. That night, he repacked his SWAT gear for another early morning shift and then spent the next 36 hours on his shift as an engineer on a San Bernardino fire crew.
“My heart goes out to the families” Starling said, “I can’t even imagine what they are going through… My heart and deepest condolences goes out to them.”