Lawrence Academy athletic trainer Frank Mastrangelo, above, of Shirley talks about his experience working in the medical tent during the 2013 Boston
Lawrence Academy athletic trainer Frank Mastrangelo, above, of Shirley talks about his experience working in the medical tent during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Framed on the wall in his office, right, is some of his gear from that day.

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SHIRLEY -- Frank Mastrangelo will never forget the horror and heartache he felt at last year's Boston Marathon.

Stationed at the medical tent within blocks of the bombing, he saw firsthand the extensive injuries that crippled runners.

What was supposed to be a one-year stint has turned into dedication to helping those runners stay safe this year, said Mastrangelo, an athletic trainer at Lawrence Academy in Groton.

During the 2013 marathon, Mastrangelo was in charge of medical sweepers, a role he took on again this year in light of last year's tragedy.

He said the medical "sweepers" -- nurses, EMTs like himself and other medical professionals -- work in teams overseeing different zones on the route.

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No Published Caption

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
When the explosions happened, he said, everybody was deployed to tend to the wounded.

He said what happened didn't register with him at first.

"I didn't think it was a bomb," he said Monday, the eve of the one-year anniversary. "I thought scaffolding collapsed. I was in the back side of the medical tent, and at about the time I got to the front of the tent, I looked to see what was going on, and nobody was there."

He said when he saw Jeff Bauman of Chelmsford, who had lost both his legs in the blast, he knew it was much more than a scaffolding collapse.

A photo of Bauman and his three rescuers, including bystander Carlos Arredondo, became one of the most recognizable symbols of the attack's impact.

"It was just pandemonium," Mastrangelo said. "People were running. There were people on my team that ran and left. There's a lot of people that went right to the scene and ran into that danger, and there's people who just went in the other direction. It's hard to account for those people."

In the hours after the bombing that left three people dead and hundreds injured, Mastrangelo was emotionally shaken.

"I was less than one block from the explosions," he said.

Frank  Mastrangelo of Shirley,  an EMT at the scene of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing: "Not much shakes me, and this one did. It was
Frank Mastrangelo of Shirley, an EMT at the scene of last year's Boston Marathon bombing: "Not much shakes me, and this one did. It was gruesome." SUN / JOHN LOVE

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"Not much shakes me, and this one did. It was gruesome. Medical personnel scrambled to take care of the wounded. It was awful."

Mastrangelo is a stroke survivor who has run the marathon five times.

He said during a typical marathon, there are 20 athletic trainers at the finish line on Boylston Street, funneling people who need medical attention into the medical tent a half-mile from the finish line, or directing them to go get their medals and collect their belongings.

"When the bombs went off last year, we had to make some quick changes," he said. "All the police had them stopped at the Beacon Street underpass. I started deploying people. I'm sending teams outside of their areas that's really closed off to everybody. Find out where the runners are coming in from. This was on the fly."

Mastrangelo credits the work Boston EMS crews did in transporting those who needed medical treatment at area hospitals, but he said nobody was in any way prepared for two bombs exploding.

He said that before the explosions, there were four ambulances on standby. He said until the site was deemed a mass-casualty incident, people were either carrying the wounded or putting them in wheelchairs.

"The people who man the wheelchairs are student-athletic trainers or student nurses, so they're people who may have seen a sprained ankle or a blister, and all of a sudden, you're seeing something traumatic," he said. "I'm sending them up two at a time bringing people back. Talk about an eye-opening thing for them. That was what I felt bad about. Certainly, people had issues, but this was a lot for these kids to take in."

Sitting in his office in the athletic training room at Lawrence Academy on Monday, Mastrangelo said his first instinct last year was to step in and help.

"I wanted to do what I could to help people, but I couldn't," he said. "My job was to deploy people to the places that were needed."

He said he saw himself as the "fire chief" that day.

"I got to the fire, and I had to make sure the firefighters were doing their job. That was the hard part, too, because I was sending people up to an area that I knew there was a risk of another potential bomb going off. 

"My first instinct was to run up there, but I'm in charge," he added. "What's going to help if I run up there? What's going to happen to my team if I run up there?"

Last year, he was in charge of 260 volunteers, and this year, he'll be in charge of 360.

While standing near the tent, dispatching volunteers to various places, he was very conscious of what was going on around him.

"That's the scary part," he said. "When those bombs went off and we knew it was a bomb, what's next? That was the scary part to begin with. I was standing next to the John Hancock. Not only was I worrying about everyone on my team and how we were going to coordinate it, but I was thinking about what else could happen."

Mastrangelo said communication among the volunteers and to people on the outside was nonexistent, and not being able to reach his family was difficult.

"They were a mess," he said. "That was emotional for me as well. My mom, who passed away in February, was an absolute mess. They were calling each other, and people were calling the school."

His wife, Donna, is a Spanish teacher at Lawrence Academy.

"My wife wanted to kill me," he said. "I told her I was just trying to do the job and that I was trying to make sure people are OK. I remember saying I'm scared and safe and that we didn't know what's happened and we can't leave this area right now."

He said he was one of a handful of volunteers who went back to the site of the medical tent in the weeks after the bombing to help disassemble it, and he said it was an eerie feeling being back.

"We had to check in with the FBI, couldn't take pictures, anything. Our job was to clean up the medical tent. Anything we found, we had to turn in. Seeing what it had turned into, that brought back my emotions. Somebody had put up a sheet that they wrote the word 'morgue' on," he said.

Those images have stuck with him to this day.

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