A firefighter on the terror attack: “La Rambla empty of people is an image I'll never forget”
Memories of that day in Barcelona a year ago remain with members of the emergency services who attended the victims
When a group of terrorists struck a year ago in Catalonia, it changed the lives of many people. Among those who will never forget the events that caused the deaths of 16 people are also members of the emergency services. With the commemorations for the August 2017 terror attacks underway, a police officer and a firefighter share their memories of the tragic events with the Catalan News Agency (ACN).
Sergeant of the Mossos d'Esquadra Catalan police, Xavier Pérez, says he is no stranger to difficult situations but that what he saw on August 17 last year “was the strongest of them.”
“You think you’re ready for it, but when faced with it you see that although you’ve been trained you have to find a little extra inside so that you don’t freeze, and freezing up in those situations is the last thing that can happen to a police officer or a firefighter,” he says.
Despite 35 years serving in the Mossos police, Pérez admits his experience attending to victims on Barcelona’s La Rambla after the attack has left him reluctant to go back to the Catalan capital’s major boulevard.
“It makes you tearful and I cried a lot at that time, due to the reaction of the public, who applauded you or gave you flowers, and that of family, friends and colleagues. There were some very emotional moments, very emotional,” he says.
"You think you’re ready for it, but when faced with it you see that although you’ve been trained you have to find a little extra inside so that you don’t freeze"
Xavier Pérez · Catalan police officer
Pérez says he feels “very proud” of how his fellow police officers and members of the other emergency services responded to the attacks. He explains how “many colleagues wanted to come back from holiday to help.” Yet, dealing with the memories remains difficult: “It still makes my hair stand on end whenever I hear or see news related to those events,” he says.
Barcelona firefighter: “I will never forget”
Barcelona firefighter Sergi Martínez also says the memories from that day a year ago will always remain with him. "La Rambla in darkness, empty of people, everything in silence, with the victims on the ground, is an image I will never forget. It remains etched on the memory, it made a big impact on me," says the firefighter from the Montjuïc fire station, the closest to the site of the attack on La Rambla.
Describing the events of that day, Martínez explains how they "dismantled tables and shelves from a florist’s shop for the wounded to sit or lie on,” he says, adding that “the employees of the local businesses brought us water. Everyone wanted to help. But we also had to get on with evacuating the people from that place.”
Like Pérez, the firefighter also makes mention of the positive public response to members of the emergency services. “People gave us flowers, which we decided to leave on the Joan Miró mosaic. All of the firefighters were walking in line when, spontaneously, people formed a corridor for us and applauded. That ovation we got walking down La Rambla was the most wonderful thing that could have happened to us,” says Martínez.