October 1, 2017 was a relatively quiet night near the Vegas strip on Sunday night when the first call came in about the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. “We knew there had been a shooting, but we didn’t know that it was a mass casualty,” Dean, a 31-year-old paramedic, tells PEOPLE. “We headed over to help out.”

When they arrived near the Mandalay Bay Casino, Dean and his partner saw dozens of ambulances waiting. “That’s when we knew it was really serious,” he said. “The cops were telling me that we couldn’t go to the area yet, because it wasn’t secure. They wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be targets. So we had to wait for an area to be cleared before we could go help.”

When paramedics and EMTs were finally able to get to an area where people lay injured, they were accompanied by police officers with their guns drawn. “There were cops all around the perimeter of the area to provide cover in case we needed it,” he says. “I had never been so scared in my life. I just kept thinking the shooting would start up again.”

The injured had been tagged with color-coded stickers on their bodies by a first responder team doing triage. Patients tagged in green had minor injuries. Those with yellow tags had non-life threatening injuries. A red tag meant that the patient had life-threatening injuries and needed to be transported immediately to a hospital. Those tagged in black were dying or expecting to die.

“We had to take the red-tagged patients first,” he says. “But it’s not always that easy. People were begging me to take them because they were in so much pain. One woman grabbed at my ankle and we locked eyes. All she could say was ‘please.’ She had tears all over her face. But she was tagged in yellow, and there were people in red. So I had to say, ‘I’m so sorry. Someone will be back for you soon.’

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