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State honors first responders who helped after Utah's tragic sandstorm crash that killed 8

Millard County Sheriff Richard Jacobson, left, is among honorees from Millard County EMS, Beaver Ambulance Service, Richfield Department of Public Safety, Utah Highway Patrol and other agencies awarded for outstanding performance in a rural emergency medical incident at an annual service honoring first responders at This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Millard County Sheriff Richard Jacobson, left, is among honorees from Millard County EMS, Beaver Ambulance Service, Richfield Department of Public Safety, Utah Highway Patrol and other agencies awarded for outstanding performance in a rural emergency medical incident at an annual service honoring first responders at This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — What happened after more than 20 vehicles crashed in the middle of a dust storm on the freeway in rural southern Utah?

Dozens of first responders from the surrounding area, representing a myriad of agencies, hurried to the scene to help the numerous victims, clear the road to prevent more cars from adding to the pileup and comfort families on that tragic day last summer.

It's difficult to imagine what one would do when presented with such a chaotic situation, said Heather Borski, assistant deputy director of Community Health and Well-being at the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

"In the middle of a no-visibility situation, first responders started to comb through the wreckage and determine what resources were needed. This was a mass casualty incident. Officers worked hard to get additional resources, shut the freeway down and reroute motorists to keep the scene as safe as possible," she said.


Thank you seems inadequate for those who run toward danger.

–Heather Borski


During an annual awards ceremony at This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday for emergency medical responders throughout the state, the Department of Health and Human Services honored dozens of people who help their communities. The honorees included those who responded to the tragic crash on July 25 that killed eight people — four adults and four children — and injured at least 10 others. A total of 22 vehicles were involved in the pileup between Fillmore and Kanosh, in Millard County, after high winds caused a sandstorm or dust storm that severely impaired visibility on the roadway.

"No training could prepare you for this type of incident, and everyone pulled together for the greater good," Borski said. "Thank you seems inadequate for those who run toward danger."

Utah Highway Patrol Maj. Beau Mason, who was there that day, emphasized the importance of mental health after seeing so much trauma firsthand.

"Because it's something you never forget, it's something you take home with you when you go. And so it affects each one of us differently, but it has lasting effects," Mason told KSL.com.

When asked how such an experience can affect someone, he hesitated. "It's not something that's even easy to talk about. It's something that we all understand, and it's part of the job, but it's also something that we strive to improve — the mental health and the support systems that are there for our troopers every day."

He said he would ask people to "understand that even our police officers, our troopers — they're people, too. And they experience a lot, they go through a lot in some of these incidents. And sometimes they have off days, and sometimes they struggle with some of these things as well."

"They experience the trauma and are just human," Mason said.

Agencies honored in connection to the sandstorm crash included Millard County Ambulance, Beaver County Ambulance, Scipio Ambulance, Millard County Search and Rescue, Fillmore Fire Department, Utah Highway Patrol, Richfield Department of Public Safety, Lakeside Towing and Dearden Motor.

"This was an all-hands on deck event, and people responded in full force," Borski said.

Dispatchers received at least 20 calls over a 15-minute period, and dispatchers immediately sent people to the scene.

The disaster required four ambulances from Millard County, one from Scipio, two Beaver ambulances and multiple medical helicopters, according to Borski.

Millard County dispatch is a "one person crew," she said, but jailers with the county sheriff's office helped get resources to the scene. A Division of Natural Resources officer — one of the first people there at the crash — "quickly applied a tourniquet and helped keep a woman calm," Borski said.

Millard County emergency medical technicians assessed the scene to make sure people were cared for "quickly and efficiently." They remained there until the last patient was gone, Borski said. Beaver Ambulance and Scipio Ambulance staff helped with patient care and provided support. Members of the Fillmore Fire Department worked "long hours" to help survivors, spent time and extra care to care for the people who had passed away. Delta Fire Department responders "came to the aid in spite of the 38-mile trip to the scene."

UHP troopers "arrived quickly and spent many hours investigating, helping with patient support, traffic control and logistics to control this large scene and keep it safe," Borski said.

Intermountain Healthcare LifeLight and University of Utah Health AirMed crews flew patients to larger facilities for trauma care. Members of search and rescue responded to help with traffic control. Fillmore Hospital received the majority of patients "and Fillmore Hospital is small but mighty in care."

"To all the first responders who run toward the danger when others run away ... you are incredible and vital, and the effective care and help on the scene changed people's lives," Borski said.

Mason said he feels "just an immense sense of pride in our organization, in our people, for fighting through hard things."

"They do hard things every day, but they do them well, and they do them with professionalism. And that's what's important. When you're dealing with families experiencing trauma and traumatic events, to be able to be professional and come through when they need you most, it just instills a great sense of pride in all of our employees, and the level of dedication they put into the jobs every day," he said.

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley has also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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