Few events in Waco hospital history were as dramatic as the aftermath of the Feb. 28 raid on the Mount Carmel compound.
The sleepy Sunday morning soon escalated into what one worker said was like a war zone.
Workers at both Providence Health Center and Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center were taken by surprise since law enforcement officials had not notified them to be on standby.
Yet, they say, because of outstanding teamwork and professionalism, they were able to save lives.
Here, in the words of hospital workers are some recollections about what happened:
“It was close to 10 o’clock, I don’t even remember, when one of the ER nurses called and said a treasury agent had phoned to tell us of a gunfight,” said Providence head nurse Susan Ready. “They said they were sending four or five gunshot victims between Hillcrest and here. I went down to ER and the security officer on duty said another call came and there were 14 or 15 victims.”
Ready said she began summoning extra workers.
“I had trouble because of it being a weekend and church time,” she said. “I got a lot of answering machines.”
A similar story was unfolding at Hillcrest.
Pat Muhl, the nursing supervisor, first learned of the raid from a Tribune-Herald reporter asking permission to cover the story from the emergency department waiting area. She knew nothing of any shootout.
Neither did others.
“I was sitting at home watching TV, the Discovery Channel,” said Hillcrest’s operating room nurse manager Debbie Damon. “My uncle called about the shootout. He said it was at Mount Carmel. The first thing I thought of was the water plant.”
From the time the first reports of gunfire came in, it was quite a while before injured officers could be taken to hospitals.
“We spent the next two and a half hours waiting for them to get here,” said Brenda Pool, head nurse for Providence’s emergency department. “Then the helicopters started coming in.”
At 12:35 p.m., helicopters tried to land at Hillcrest’s medical tower rooftop landing space but were thwarted because of drizzle and rain. They diverted to Providence’s ground-level heliport.
“They landed one helicopter, unloaded the wounded and it immediately took off,” said Providence public relations director Janet Kemp. “We got another in.”
A third helicopter landed a short distance away in the empty doctors’ parking lot, she said.
“All you could hear were helicopters,” Pool said.” They were all flying around, ready to drop. You didn’t know if we got four or 30 or 40 coming in.”
Hillcrest “received our first agent after 12:30” by ground ambulance, Muhl said. “He was dead, and it was very upsetting to all of us. Then the other agents started coming in. We realized we could do something for them.”
At Providence, Pool’s first patient was also dead on arrival, so she turned to help another group care for their patient.
Providence received three ATF officers. One had minor wounds and could be treated and released. The other was shot in the chest, elbow and abdomen several times.
“He was still coherent when he came here,” Pool said. “He was determined to live. He was crying and wanted to talk to his wife.”
Hillcrest received a dozen male ATF officers and one female officer. Two were dead on arrival.
“This is probably the most casualties at one time we’ve seen at any one thing I’ve been involved in,” Dr. William Daney, Hillcrest emergency medical director, told reporters on Feb. 28. “I never have seen as many deliberately inflicted gunshot wounds as this, and I’ve been in emergency medicine 15 years.”
“It was incredibly hyper,” remembers Rebecca Adams, an emergency room nurse at Hillcrest. “You could feel the electricity in the air. But it was very organized and incredible. Everything just seemed to click. Things got taken care of in a very timely manner.”
People helped where needed, doing whatever they could. Workers recall seeing doctors performing nursing duties or providing basic treatment outside their usual area of specialty.
“It wasn’t just the nurses,” said Hillcrest vice president Bruce Eady. “The housekeepers were washing the blood off the stretchers. The food service fed the staff, ATF and police officers. It certainly was not just an effort from medical and nursing, it was everybody. It was real impressive.”
A rumor made the rounds that angry — and armed — Branch Davidian cultists would soon be coming to the hospital with their wounded.
A Providence clerk became very “anxious when that word got out, but I didn’t worry,” Ready said. “I told her, if you hear any gunfire, just hit the floor.”
Extra security was put into place — and remained there.
“The guns did play on your nerves,” said Rose Mary Munos, a Providence nurse. “You got used to it and accepted it. But the ATF officers were nothing but nice, very nice.”
Workers at both hospitals say they developed close ties with the ATF officers, who they universally described as dedicated professionals.
“The hospital tried to be a port in the storm,” said HBMC social worker Beverly Johnston. “We tried to deal with each and every one of the ATF officers and their families.”