PARKLAND, Fla. (CN) - A fire rescue commander who helped manage the response to the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead Wednesday said in an interview that en route to the massacre, his team clung to futile hopes that reports of unrelenting gunfire at the suburban campus would turn out to be a false alarm.
But the 911 calls kept pouring in, and when Michael Moser, division chief of the Coral Springs Fire Department, arrived on scene at the school, his worst nightmare was realized and the first responders under his command encountered unbridled chaos.
Nineteen-year-old expelled student Nikolas Cruz had allegedly rampaged through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15 rifle just before the end of the school day Feb. 14.
Injured students and teachers were strewn across the campus, and the floors of a school building were covered in blood.
"As I was driving here, the information at the beginning was uncertain. So part of me hoped that this was a fake call," Moser said in an interview outside the school. "Part of me hoped this was less than they made it out to be. As I was gathering more info, I learned that it was the real deal."
Moser said scores of paramedics and first responders from Broward County triaged and transported most of the injured patients within minutes.
"It was a very difficult scene, very chaotic.... [It] went from level 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds," he said. "We were fortunate enough to be able to get a majority of the patients off the scene within 10 minutes."
A student of the high school at a local McDonald's Thursday afternoon recounted gruesome images: a schoolmate with a gunshot wound to the head, and bodies pressed up against the outside of locked classroom doors. Moser said the scene was heart-wrenching.
"It is emotional. But at the same time, you have to work. You put those emotions aside and deal with them later. I think our men and women saved a lot of lives yesterday," Moser said.
With his voice at times barely audible over the frantic sobs of a young girl nearby, Coral Springs Fire Chief Frank Babinec at a press conference echoed Moser's statements, noting that first responders en route to the school "weren't sure if this was a real event or not."
Upon arrival, the reality dawned on them.
"Our first responders can never unsee what they saw yesterday," Babinec said at the press conference.
Moser said the fire department does active shooter training often.
"It's something that we have to be proficient in,” Moser said. “We're ready to act whenever we need to. This is the type of call that you train for, that you see on TV in other jurisdictions. You hope that it never happens here. ... But it happened here.”
While paramedics were transporting patients from the school, which has more than 3,200 students enrolled, the alleged shooter was making his way off campus. He had dropped his gun at the school and was able to blend in with fleeing students, according to an arrest report.
It was revealed Thursday afternoon that Coconut Creek police officer Michael Leonard came upon Cruz as the 19-year-old walked on a sidewalk off campus. Leonard said at a media briefing that he recognized that Cruz's clothes matched the description of the shooter. He said Cruz "complied with [his] demands" and surrendered without resistance.