Off-duty firefighter saves man's life after choking on food

He said he was glad to help and that it was one of those moments where he was in the right place at the right time

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN, Okla. — What started out as a normal night out for a Moore couple ended with them being thankful a firefighter was in the right place at the right time.

Bill and Dianne Bracelin were having dinner Friday at Outback Steakhouse when Bill started choking on his food.

“My husband took a bite of steak, and the next thing I know, there’s something that is not right,” Dianne said. “He took a drink and it shot right back out of his mouth.”

At that point, Dianne said she got up, took her fist and pounded really hard on her husband’s back and then a man at the table behind them jumped to his feet, came around and did the Heimlich maneuver.

“I told him, ‘I think God put you there for a reason,’” Dianne said. “We are very blessed. Seriously, what would the odds of that be? You just happen to sit down and a Norman firefighter literally sat down right behind you.”

Dianne said if they had been in a regular booth, the chances are it would take someone longer to notice someone was choking to death. She said no one ever thinks something like that is going to happen, but she couldn't have asked for a nicer, sweeter person to help her husband.

The Norman firefighter, Grant McDanel, has been working with the fire department for nearly two years. McDanel’s wife was out of town, so he went out to eat by himself when he heard what sounded like someone choking behind him and heard the man’s wife ask if he was OK, he said.

“I just stood up and asked if he was OK, and it was pretty evident that he was not OK and that he was choking. So I just gave him the Heimlich maneuver, which I’d never done before,” McDanel said. “We kinda joked about it afterward and I told him it was the first time I’d ever done it.”

McDanel said Bracelin kept saying he saw McDanel’s Norman firefighter shirt and was trying to get his wife to get him, but it wasn’t too long before he saw what was happening. McDanel guessed Bracelin hadn’t been choking for more than 30 seconds before he stepped in.

Norman Fire Department requires that their firefighters be CPR certified and have basic EMT skills.

“I’ve told a lot of people that the CPR classes are a good idea, just to have a basic understanding of what to do if somebody has a heart attack or is choking, you know, because there’s not always someone around that has been through those classes,” McDanel said.

He also said he was glad he was there to help and it was just one of those moments where he was in the right place at the right time.

“All of these guys, whether fire or police or whoever it is, they’re always ready to step up in that moment,” Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey said. “There’s people that can be in that same situation that wouldn’t have any clue what to do or they may not be brave enough to step up and do what needs to be done at a moment’s notice.”

Bailey said it wouldn’t take long in a situation like that for a person to pass out and be without air, which could lead to brain damage.

“It’s very possible if he would’ve collapsed before the ambulance and fire trucks got there, he would’ve been in pretty bad shape,” he said.

However, more often than not, someone steps in to help before the fire department arrives. Bailey said they are not typically called out on choking calls at restaurants.

“Firefighters are used to making calls that are typically after the event, but they’re prepared for when that happens — even on their day off. They’ll certainly do something. They won’t stand back,” Bailey said.

Norman Fire Capt. Jack Ingram said McDanel always does a great job responding to medical calls and everything else.

“He works hard, does what he’s supposed to do around here and does a great job, even on his off days,” Ingram said.

“He exemplifies the core values of the city of Norman Fire Department,” Bailey said.

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