Newtown, Conn., First Responders Had Never Experienced 'Anything of This Magnitude'

One first responder described initial reports of the massacre as "astonishing."

ByABC News
December 17, 2012, 4:14 AM

Dec. 17, 2012— -- Police, paramedics and firefighters who descended on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut moments after the massacre of 20 children and six adults said they had never experienced anything like it.

"We have never had anything of this magnitude," Sandy Hook Village Fire Chief Bill Halstead told "Good Morning America" today.

Many first responders arrived at the scene within minutes Friday morning, prepared to save lives.

CLICK HERE for full coverage of the shooting at the elementary school.

They immediately began working as they had many times before responding to past emergencies.

"We set up a triage area right by our rescue truck for major injuries and we set up a second triage here at the firehouse for the walking wounded," Halstead said.

They soon learned that this emergency was unlike anything for which they had ever prepared. They waited and focused on the job ahead of them until the enormity set in. Halstead said the initial report from the building was "astonishing" as the number of dead continued to rise.

"Unfortunately, we only got to work on two people instead of 26 that we maybe could have helped," Halstead said.

His daughter Karin Halstead, a Sandy Hook firefighter and EMS captain, shared his sentiment.

"I think that's the toughest part, is we're trained to do this and we wanted people," she said. "We wanted to take care of people and keep them alive and there's nothing we could do."

CLICK HERE to read about the 'hero teacher,' the principal and 20 children who lost their lives.

As Karin and Bill Halstead focused on their job of saving lives, their hearts were with a family member who was stuck inside the building when the shots rang out. His wife and Karin's mother, Barbara, is a clerk in the main office of Sandy Hook Elementary School, which is in the town of Newtown.

"I thought the worst," Karin Halstead. "I was told the worst."

Halstead spent three grueling hours not knowing the fate of her mother until they were reunited.

"Indescribable. My sister was by my side, and we just hugged her and held her," she said.

Many families waited at the firehouse for the same sense of relief.

"It's indescribable," Sandy Hook fire Capt. John Jeltema told "GMA" this morning. "It's just awful and no matter how much training or how much you think you're able to handle it, you just can't."

Many first responders stayed at the firehouse with parents awaiting news on whether they would ever hold their children again.

Sandy Hook firefighter Lt. Ryan Clark, also on "GMA" today, said, "This call has never ended. I feel the same way I did at 10:15 a.m. Friday morning when we got there. I feel like I'm still at the school. I really don't think it's set in for me at all what's happened."

Added Chief Bill Halstead: "It would be nice if I could wake up tomorrow morning and say this was a dream."