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'It Won't Ever Leave Me': 10 Years Later, Paramedics Reflect On 35W Bridge Collapse

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Their lifesaving skills were put to the test in a way they never could have imagined when the 35W Bridge collapsed.

Paramedics are now taking us back to that day in 2007.  Through the dangerous terrain and the chaos that followed, WCCO went with one ambulance crew back to the scene to hear how one call changed the course of so many lives 10 years ago.

They were working separate rigs that Friday night at 6:05 when a brand new term flashed across their ambulance screens.

"At that point in time I don't think any of us had seen technical rescue pop up on our computers before," Becky Kopka said.

That technical rescue would bring Hennepin EMS paramedics Becky Kopka and Don Wolfe to a view unimaginable before: one of the state's busiest bridges in the water.

Hennepin EMS paramedics Becky Kopka and Don Wolfe
(credit: CBS)

"It was just kind of a wow moment. It still gives me chills to say that and to think about it," Kopka said.

"It was very surreal thinking that something that size could collapse like that," Wolfe said.

One of Wolfe's first patients was carried up by a police officer, an image that would come to be broadcast around the world.

"That was the second patient I came up with and I believe she had a broken back. Then, we had all the children in the bus that were right behind the semi as well," Wolfe said.

Communication and access quickly became the biggest challenges.

Old technology wouldn't allow paramedics to communicate with police or fire departments directly and twisted and cut off dirt roads from debris were difficult to navigate.

"A lot of these back roads aren't necessarily roads that we would hop on," Kopka said.

Many patients were put onto pickup trucks by the countless number of people who showed up to help.

Emergency responders at the 35W Bridge collapse
(credit: CBS)

As 10 years approaches these paramedics can't help but think of the 13 who lost their lives.

"Not to take away anything, anybody that passed away in this terrible tragedy but it's a miracle that there weren't more," Wolfe said.

As a new bridge forever connects them to a night they won't forget.

"The bridge collapse will always be ingrained in my memory. It won't ever leave me," Kopka said.

Hennepin County Medical Center had 10 ambulances and 37 Paramedics on scene the day of the collapse.  Crews from several other hospitals across the metro showed up to help, as well.

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