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Firefighter puts aside own grieving to save baby’s life

Brody Channell was returning from honoring his father who died in the line of duty when he pulled to the side of the road to help an officer performing CPR on an unresponsive infant

By Brody Channell

October 4 was a day full of remembrance and tribute.

I was honoring my father who had lost his life in 2014. My father, Poyen (Ark.) Fire Capt. Dennis Channell, a 20-year fire service veteran, died of a massive stroke while on a medical call on Feb. 10.

In a sea of blue with hundreds of firefighters in their Class A uniforms, my wife and I were ushered to our seats at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s annual memorial service in Emmitsburg, Md.

The memorial service was a humbling experience, and to see the volume of firefighters and chiefs there was amazing. For everyone to take time out of their busy lives to honor these firefighters who lost their lives in 2014 was something I’ll never forget.

The service went well and my wife and I were able to meet President Obama. After it was over, we went back to the memorial on campus, had lunch and said goodbye to other families and new friends we met over the weekend.

We returned to our hotel to get a rental car and made arrangements to spend the night in Washington, D.C. while we were in the area.

Never off-duty
While I was driving, it was quiet and my wife and I talked about the day and the service. She was tired from being up so early, so she was going to take a quick nap before we arrived in D.C.

I soon noticed an officer who had a mini-van pulled over to the inside of the median.

And that’s actually what caught my eye. I kept thinking, ‘Why can’t people just pull to the right!’

That’s when I noticed the officer and a man running away from the police car toward another car where an elderly woman was standing. She was standing in front of her vehicle with a 9-month-old baby girl in her arms and I could tell that something was wrong.

The child’s arms were limp and I made a split-second decision to stop.

I pulled to the median, hopped the wall and approached the officer.

The officer had just started CPR and dispatch was trying to get in touch with him on the radio. I didn’t want to come onto the scene and announce I was an EMT or that I was a firefighter. So I just began assisting the officer with the progress he had already made. I observed him doing CPR and started a patient assessment with the grandmother.

I asked her if the baby had been eating, if she was on any medication, was it a sudden onset and how old the child was. She was answering my questions the best she could then started in with questions about me.

“Who are you? Are you an EMT?” she asked.

I then told her I was and that I’m a firefighter from out of state.

Baby became responsive
After the officer finished a round of compression, I asked him to hold compressions for me to assess the patient.

I felt for a carotid pulse and one was present. I turned the baby to the recover position in my arms, and asked the officer to sweep her mouth to make sure there wasn’t a blockage.

I turned the baby to her back and held my ear to her chest to see if I could hear of any breath sounds or possible obstructions in her airway. Hearing her breathe was a big relief. I then began to ask the grandmother more question about the baby.

While continuing to look after her, the baby slowly started to come around and her eyes became more responsive. As the child’s condition continued to improve, a battalion chief showed up on scene and I gave him a progress report.

Behind him, an ambulance and pumper arrived. I spoke briefly to the paramedics and they carried her to the ambulance. I told the officer “great job” and he said the same.

So my wife and I got in our rental car and continued onto D.C.

The funny thing is that my wife was still asleep when I stopped to help. She woke up as soon as I was braking the car. She came up while everything was going on and stayed back out of the way. She also spoke to the grandmother and tried to comfort her throughout the ordeal.

While in the car, she asked me why I decided to stop and help. I told her, “I can’t really tell you. I just saw that something didn’t look good and I could possibly make a difference.”

And whether or not I did, I at least tried.

That’s something my father always said: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

When I look at cases like this I believe that if you don’t stop to help, then the outcome will definitely be worse. I wouldn’t have stopped if I saw a pumper or ambulance on scene. In our line of work, we make decisions in seconds of arriving on a scene and assessing what needs to be done to make the outcome better for everyone involved.

As a firefighter, we never really go off-duty and are always going to assist however we can. It’s in our nature.

Media frenzy
When we got to D.C., we toured the monuments and walked around. The next morning, we woke up early to grab a quick breakfast and spent the day at Ford’s Theater.

I don’t think my wife or I picked up a phone that day except to take a picture. We didn’t know there was even a story going on about the events that had happened the day before.

As we were leaving D.C. to head to Baltimore, a friend who is a fire captain texted me and asked if I was the firefighter who had helped an officer on the side of a road with an unresponsive baby.

I told him it was me and didn’t think much else about it.

Soon after, I got a few phone calls while we were in Baltimore from local reporters. The next morning, we flew back to Little Rock and I was welcomed by a few voicemails from my PIO and another local reporter. I got a chance to speak with the officer once again by phone as we were getting back home.

Part of my job
Media attentions isn’t why firefighters do what they do.

Any other firefighter would have done the same thing I did if they were in my shoes. We win some and lose some — it’s part of our job. The losses hurt and we try to do our best with the resources we have available.

To me, it was just another call as if I was on duty and helping someone in need.

The best lesson I learned from my father is how to serve people and do things for others that they can’t do themselves. He also taught me to finish the job right the first time so you don’t have to do it a second.

I know he would have been proud of what I did.

We are all here for a purpose and we’re given abilities to do the things we do to make a difference.

If I had not been in town honoring and remembering my father, then I would have never been driving down that road. It’s amazing to know there’s always a plan in store for you — whether you know it at the time or not.