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By Jonna Spelbring Priester Landmark News Service CARROLLTON — The scene on May 14, 1988 was beyond comprehension the numbers were staggering: One school bus; one pickup truck, 56 emergency medical technicians, two paramedics, two doctors and two nurses. There were 10 ambulances, two helicopters, at least two fire trucks, at least one brush truck and a 1,500-gallon tanker truck, all serving multiple fire, rescue and EMS crews. As many as 60 people were injured or died, most of them children. One volunteer firefighter and EMT from Campbellsburg was first on the scene, along with a Kentucky State Police trooper fresh out of the academy. "The trooper, bless his heart, had been on the job a week, called post and said they’d ‘better call the National Guard. Campbellsburg can’t take care of this one,’" recalled Bob Burnett, a Henry County EMT who at the time was director of Henry County EMS District No. 1. Burnett was a member of the first EMS crew to respond to the crash. In a recent interview, he recalled that the scene he came upon that night was unlike anything he’s ever witnessed – before or since. "When I drove up, I looked through that windshield. ... I’ll never forget it," he said, recalling the image of the church bus, which had burst into flames after impact. Burnett, a veteran emergency medical technician at the time of the Carrollton bus crash, recalls going out to eat earlier that night in La Grange. Later, he had sat on his back porch and enjoyed a bowl of ice cream before going to bed. At 11 p.m., he got the call. It wasn’t abnormal, he said, for an accident to happen on the hill that rounds to the southwest coming out of Carrollton; there were one to two "rear enders" there each year. Burnett described a scene that looked "like the midway at the Kentucky State Fair on Saturday night." A caravan of buses halted in the southbound lanes of Interstate 71, all on their way back from Kings Island. Chaperones and children from other buses scattered around, some helping those in the burned bus from Radcliff. The scene encompassed an area the length of three school buses, Burnett recalled; it was divided so certain crews worked the north end and others worked the south end. He said, by all legal considerations, Carroll County should have handled the scene, and would have handled the triage care. "A fella (from Carroll County) said, ‘Bob, you handle it,’" Burnett remembered. "I said, ‘It’s your county. He said, ‘You’re doing an outstanding job.’" In triage, Burnett said victims were categorized into four groups. The first, the top priority, were seriously injured but alive. Seven victims were given that ranking that night, including Larry Mahoney, the driver of the pickup truck who caused the collision. The second category included those victims with non-life-threatening injuries; the third category included the "walking wounded." The fourth, Burnett said, were those who were "obviously gone." Burnett said he had Mahoney flown by helicopter to a Louisville hospital. Later, he said, some parents were incensed that he’d done so. "EMS doesn’t judge people. We treat the worst injured first," he said. "He was a priority one, so I flew him. "We let the law and the Lord figure it out. The Lord decides who is going to live or die and the law decides who’s guilty or not. I just deal with sick and injured people." EMS was successful that night, Burnett said, because all victims were at the hospital within the "golden hour" – the amount of time following an incident when medical treatment is the most critical to survival. Over the years, Burnett has taught EMS classes throughout the north central Kentucky region. Inevitably, discussion turns to the Carrollton bus crash. "I’ve been asked a lot in the last 20 years … how I slept at night," he said. "I sleep well. I give 110 percent. When I lay down, I can actually know that I did everything I could to save one. It’s up to the Lord whether they live or not." Some volunteer EMTs left the service after the Carrollton crash, but most, like Burnett, stayed on. Chuck Smith, a volunteer EMT until the early 1990s, said the scene had a significant impact on a lot of the people who worked it, including himself. "One moment you’re having fun at Kings Island, and an hour later, you’re in this horrid crash," he said, thinking about how events transpired that night for the victims. "It just makes you think about your own kids and what could happen." Burnett said the 1988 tragedy helped bring about some changes in the way EMS teams respond to large-scale accident scenes. After the scene was cleared, some EMTs stayed to clean up the scene, but also to talk. "We picked up all of the trash ... (then) sat on the guardrail," Burnett said. "We sat and talked about it a little bit, and we went on our merry way." Though some debriefing was available at the time, today Critical Instance Stress Debriefing Teams are involved when such tragedies occur to help EMTs talk through the experience and help them deal with what they’ve seen. A debriefing team can include as few as three people or as many as 50, depending on the need, Burnett said. EMS agencies coordinate the service out of the American Red Cross office in Louisville. Another significant change is how information is disseminated to the press. "Now, we have an information officer ... we’d never done that before," Burnett said. "We didn’t handle that well (in 1988). We learned from that."