Programming note: Watch “New Day” and “CNN Newsroom” each Friday to see inspiring stories of officers going above and beyond the call of duty.
Travis Haldeman thought it was silly that someone would set off fireworks while country music superstar Jason Aldean was on stage. A Clark County fire engineer, Haldeman was off-duty, enjoying the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival with his wife Haley on the Las Vegas Strip. The couple was about 15 feet away from the main stage when they realized something was wrong.
Beyond the Call of Duty
“And then we heard another round of gunshots come through and we were like ‘oh, that sounds more like gunshots, not fireworks,’” Travis recalled. “Jason Aldean stopped playing and ran off stage. That’s when it hit us.”
From birthday fun to bullets flying
Elsewhere in the crowd, another off-duty Clark County firefighter Jesse Gomez was having a good time with his wife Debbie, his sister and brother-in-law and his cousins Steve and Opal Ruiz. Enjoying all three days of the festival, the family had celebrated Jesse’s birthday the day before, meeting up with Travis and some other firefighters. But at this point, just the family was hanging out together.
When Jesse realized the sound was gunfire, he covered his wife.
“It was a non-stop popping sound, gunfire,” Jesse said. “The moment it stopped everyone went running and then it started again and we sort of crouched down.”
‘I am afraid for my husband’s life – afraid for my life’
Normally when firefighters are responding to emergencies, their wives and loved ones aren’t with them. As the scope of the situation became clear, both Jesse and Travis felt they had to stay and help but first they needed to get their wives and family to safety.
Travis told Haley to run to their car. He said he’d meet her at home. “I felt like somebody with my skill set and my calmness in that moment could do a lot of good for people who needed it,” Travis said.
Haley knew he was going to stay but was terrified. “I am afraid for my husband’s life – afraid for my life. I am afraid for my children not to have parents,” Haley said. “I am afraid for everything any normal person would be afraid for at that moment.”
Jesse and his family began running to the east side of the venue – away from the gunfire. Along the way, he came across a woman who was bleeding from her head and face. “We just picked her up and we carried her to the other side, me and a couple of strangers,” Jesse said, recalling how he urged his family to keep running to their cars.
Debbie didn’t want to leave her husband. “His cousin’s wife basically dragged me to the car running, ‘cause at that point I had lost my shoes and we are running through a dirt lot,” Debbie remembered.
‘Why did he go back?’
But as they get closer to their car, they realize about 10 people are using it as a shield. “They are just begging and pleading for me to let them in, and at that moment I realize I don’t have keys,” Debbie said. Jesse sprinted to give her his backpack and keys, but after helping get the injured woman to safety, he was covered in blood.