Sanford Emergency Manager Talks Response Following SF Building Collapse

Greg Santa Maria: 'We advanced 50 years in 16'

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – It’s been more than a week since the former Copper Lounge building collapsed in Downtown Sioux Falls. While the incident killed one person and injured another, the response from emergency crews was reportedly second to none. KDLT’s Jill Johnson takes a look at how emergency response has changed in the last decade from an expert who experienced one of the worst tragedies of our time.

“My paramedics were coming to me saying what’s in the dust.”

Greg Santa Maria is the Emergency Manager for Sanford Health which spans dozens of hospitals and clinics in four states. The title comes with immense responsibility, but he’s most known for his time as the EMS Director at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan.

“We were the Level 1 Trauma Center that was closest to Ground Zero,” said Santa Maria.

On September 11, 2001, paramedics from St Vincent’s responded immediately, in the trenches of what had become of the Twin Towers; the worst building collapse in history.

sanford-emergency-manager“You have a collapse of really 220 stories of debris all compressed into about ten story piles with fire.” Santa Maria said, “You were seeing a lot of injuries from the rescue workers; ankle fractures and burns and things like that as they were crawling around trying to find people.”

Since 9/11, the former firefighter and paramedic says emergency response has changed completely.

Santa Maria said, “We advanced 50 years in 16 when it comes to where we were on 9/11 and where we are now.”

They’ve implemented intel sections at command centers, to collect as much information as possible.

“Don’t just rush in kind of mindset that first responders always have and take a minute to access your scene,” Santa Maria said.

While everyone wore the American flag on 9/11 and the months after, Santa Maria says it wasn’t always that way.

“People just argued and there was a lot of ‘this is my world’, and here, my first emergency operations center meeting, it was like the cops and the firemen were actually talking to each other.”

When Sioux Falls recently experienced its own building collapse, EMS crews from across the city were in communication with each other. He says that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Santa Maria said, “At the end of the day, when a disaster strikes, you know we’re all in it together and our job is to make sure the public is safe.”

Santa Maria says when the former Copper Lounge building collapsed his mind didn’t go directly to the World Trade Center Buildings. He says it’s common in New York, the Queens and Manhattan area, to have buildings collapses because of old infrastructure.

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