Conn. firefighters save colleague having heart attack

Ernie Bouthiette went into cardiac arrest due to arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia; he didn't know he had the heart condition until he woke up in the hospital

The Hartford Courant

ENFIELD, Conn. — The call came into the Thompsonville Fire Department at a change of shift on a Monday evening in November — an unresponsive 52-year-old male on Russell Street.

Firefighters arrived at the home, and said there was some initial confusion. Then, firefighter Tom O'Brien saw a familiar person standing in the driveway — fellow Thompsonville firefighter Ernie Bouthiette's 16-year-old son.

"It's Dad," the teen told O'Brien.

Ernie Bouthiette, 52, has worked with the department since 1987.

Bouthiette was in cardiac arrest.

"He was pale as a ghost, sitting in a chair, head back, he didn't have a pulse," O'Brien said. "We took him to the ground, started chest compression and shocked him once."

Capt. Michael Forsyth said he walked into the station and heard that there was a call on Russell Street, and that the responding crew was performing CPR. When he realized it was Bouthiette's parents' house, he got into a ladder truck with his crew and arrived at the same time Enfield EMS did, he said.

Forsyth called acting Fire Chief William Provencher.

"He said, 'Chief, it's Ernie, its Ernie, we're doing CPR,'" Provencher said. "My reaction was, 'You're kidding me,' and he said, 'No, would I kid you about something like that?'"

Provencher said he left and made his way to Russell Street. When he got there the medics had just left. with Bouthiette.

"Everyone was just in disbelief and sobbing, they couldn't believe it," Provencher said.

The responding crew made their way back to the North Main Street fire station. Members described their meeting space as "somber."

Off-duty firefighters came into the station, sitting together in silence waiting for updates.

When Provencher arrived at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, he said firefighters and EMS were there waiting.

"When they disconnected him to get him to the critical care area, we walked him into the elevator, into his room and did everything," Provencher said. "We didn't lose contact with him, we kept in contact with him through the whole thing."

After the night crew finished their shift the next morning, they drove up to Baystate to be with Bouthiette, Forsyth said.

A week after the call, Bouthiette walked into the fire station, according to firefighter Tyler Burnham, "like nothing ever happened."

"When I came to and woke up I was in the hospital," Bouthiette said. "The last thing I could remember was leaving Bosco's on South Road, that was about three hours before it happened."

Bouthiette said he knows he had errands to run that day — he had to drop his son off at a driver's education class, put gas in his dad's car and bring everyone home for dinner — but doesn't remember.

"When I woke up, my sisters asked, 'Do you know where you are?'" Bouthiette said with a chuckle. Bouthiette re-created the scenario during an interview, looking to his left arm, then his right and said: "I'm in a hospital."

Bouthiette said he went into cardiac arrest due to a condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, ARVD. "The ventricle side of my heart went crazy, there was a rapid heartbeat ... causing me to go into cardiac arrest. … I went into cardiac arrest on the ventricular side, that's why they were able to defibrillate."

Bouthiette said he didn't know he had the heart condition until he woke up in the hospital. He said he wouldn't have found out at regular check-ups because his EKG tests had always come out fine. It wasn't until he had an MRI that he found out.

"My heart is in perfect shape, there was no damage, no blockages, it's just this condition," Bouthiette said.

Bouthiette now has an internal defibrillator implanted on his heart, in case he goes into cardiac arrest. He also takes medication each day to treat the condition. He's a little sore, he said, and his chest hurts if he coughs or sneezes. He's out of work and can't drive for six months. If the defibrillator goes off, he said, he'll be out another six months.

Now, more than a month later, Bouthiette said his family is doing well.

It was tough for firefighters. Many worked with Bouthiette for more than 10 years, so Provencher said he brought in the state's critical incident stress team to host a debriefing. Everyone who was on scene and some other firefighters who weren't attended the session, Provencher said.

"I think everything gets easier through time. There's still a lot of memories of the actual incident effecting some of the guys," Provencher said. "It was hard, but we had to do it," firefighter Brian Bigda said. "Even with the awesome outcome of him living, being full-functioning and like nothing happened, for us that were there it's still hard."

Bigda and Burnham were among the first to arrive at the Russell Street home, and assisted with CPR and the defibrillator.

"On other calls we leave, we say good luck to the family and stuff like that, we might go with them to the hospital, but for this one, it was more than that," Forsyth said.

Provencher agreed that this call was especially hard for members of the department. "We all kind of broke down in our own ways. … It's like one of your own family members. It's like it happening to a brother, sister, mother, father. It affected us like that."

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