Firefighters turn engine breakdown into heroic rescue

Their rig broke down en route to a medical call; while waiting for a tow truck, they got a call for a cardiac arrest and ran a quarter of a mile to save a man's life


Contra Costa Times

ANTIOCH, Calif. — Three fast-acting East Contra Costa firefighters likely saved a man's life Sunday after they carried medical equipment to him on foot, trekking across a busy street, two parking lots and through a shoe store in time to pull him out of cardiac arrest.

But ironically, the firefighters would never have gotten this opportunity if not for the dilapidated state of their equipment.Firefighters Sam Somerhalder, Capt. Craig Auzenne and Capt. Robert Ruddick were responding to an unrelated medical call miles away when their fire engine broke down in Brentwood. They were in the parking lot of the Chuck E. Cheese's on Lone Tree Way, waiting for a tow truck when they learned that a man collapsed from a heart attack behind a Payless ShoeSource store across the street in Slatten Ranch.

For the East Contra Costa Fire District — which was forced to close three fire stations earlier this year due to funding constraints — it was the second time in two weeks that an engine broke down while firefighters were responding to a call, fire Capt. Paul Totten said.

"Our mechanic could be here 40 hours a week working on stuff, and never finish his job," Totten said. "We have enough for him to do, but we don't have enough to pay him."So it wasn't entirely shocking to the three firefighters when they noticed the mechanical issue that forced them into the Chuck E. Cheese's lot Sunday afternoon."We were draining our water tank for the tow truck when we heard that a man was going into cardiac arrest behind the Payless," Ruddick said. "I said, 'Hey, we can make it over there on foot.' "

So the trio sprung into action, unloading an electronic CPR machine and other medical equipment totaling 60 pounds, and taking it a third of a mile on foot, across the street and two parking lots, to the Payless store in Antioch. Then, unsure whether the heart attack victim was inside the store or behind it, the three firefighters went through the store and out the back, triggering an alarm in the process.

"And right when we opened the door, there was a lady doing CPR on a guy right on the other side," Ruddick said.

They quickly cut through his shirt, shocked him with a defibrillator and administered CPR until an ambulance arrived. The man survived, but barely.

"His heart was quivering like Jell-O when we found him," Ruddick said.

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