Off-duty firefighters save man in cardiac arrest

Thanks to quick thinking and action, the man can now go home to his wife and three kids

By Adam Troxtell
The Norman Transcript

MOORE, Okla. — Shawn Coffey and Kelly McGlasson are regularly found at Blazers Ice Centre on Tuesday mornings.

There, the Moore and Midwest City firefighters join a group of guys for pick-up hockey games. They ditch their first responder garb for uniforms that are a formality: guys just join whatever team, everyone plays hard and everyone has a good time.

But one Tuesday morning in March, the firefighters had to step back into their lives as first responders to save a man from dying on the ice. Thanks to quick thinking and action, that man — who has not been identified — can now go home to his wife and three kids, Coffey said. And, hopefully, some day he’ll return to the rink.

“It is very rewarding, just knowing the outcome was good and all of that,” said Coffey, a corporal with Moore Fire Department. “It just puts reassurance in [the notion that] what we do works, and that we do it for a reason.”

Their actions earned a commendation from the Moore City Council and a standing ovation at Monday night’s council meeting.

“It was because of their training, calmness and quick thinking in this situation that the individual was able to survive his medical emergency,” City Manager Brooks Mitchell said. “The city of Moore is proud to have such a dedicated employee.”

It was March 21, and Coffey said he had just finished his shift in Moore. Per usual, he went to Blazers for some time on the ice, where he met McGlasson and a group of players.

Coffey said, to his knowledge, he and McGlasson are the only first responders in the group that plays regularly. Thankfully, they were there on this particular morning.

“We had been playing for about 15 minutes or so,” he said. “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him go down. I thought he tripped or got hit. I didn’t think anything of it.”

Guys fall in hockey all the time, and sometimes they stay down for a bit, either because something aches or they have to recover some pride. But after some time had passed, the man remained face down.

“When I came back around, someone was looking down at him and he wasn’t moving,” Coffey said. “I thought, ‘Something’s not right here.’”

Coffey and McGlasson immediately went into their first responder mindset. They are trained to treat seconds as precious, and in this case, they were. The man was going into cardiac arrest.

“I don’t think we hesitated; we just did what we were trained to do,” Coffey said. “It is different being on that side of it. Usually, we never witness it. We have to gather the information. This time, it happened right in front of us. Even though we weren’t expecting it, we knew exactly what to do.”

They rolled him over, making sure to keep his spine still in case he had injured it.

Coffey said the man’s breathing was labored.

His pulse was faint. Then, it disappeared.

The firefighters immediately started CPR, and 911 was called.

An automated external defibrillator (AED) was available at the rink. They put it on and shocked the man about three times before the Oklahoma City Fire Department ran through the doors.

But the on-duty firefighters and paramedics kept Coffey and McGlasson involved, letting them continue their work to revive the man.

“We were still doing CPR all the way to the front door,” Coffey said. “When we’re on duty, we try to get everybody away. In this case, I guess they realized we knew what we were doing.”

Once he was loaded into the ambulance, paramedics took it from there. But no one was in the mood to return to the ice. So Coffey and McGlasson got dressed and headed to the hospital, where they learned the man was alive but in intensive care.

Hospital staff had a hard time reaching the man’s family. McGlasson got in touch with the man’s wife via Facebook and get her down to the hospital.

Coffey said the man was put into an induced coma and no one knew if he would come out of it 100 percent healthy. A few days later, the Blazers manager called Coffey and told him the man was expected to make a full recovery.

“It sounds harsh, but usually there’s not a good outcome when you have to shock someone a couple of times and use CPR,” he said. “It wasn’t until they pulled him out that they knew how he would respond. Things were looking pretty positive for him. That was definitely a good phone call to receive.”

Coffey said without the AED at the rink, “I don’t think we would be having the same conversation.”

On duty, first responders have everything they need. This time, the firefighters had to use whatever what was around them.

And while the seven-year veteran of the Moore Fire Department has seen plenty while on duty, the fact that this incident had a happy ending helps it stand out.

“A lot of times, we don’t ever hear the outcome,” Coffey said. “When we’re on duty, we respond, we do our job, we send them to the hospital and we go back to what we were doing. This incident was more personal, because we play with him on Tuesday mornings.

“He did make it. He gets to go home to his three kids and wife now because of what we did.”

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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