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Mich. firefighter honored for saving passenger’s life during flight

Troy Firefighter James Bertolino was on a flight to Mexico when a passenger experienced chest pain

By Anne Runkle
The Oakland Press

TROY, Mich. — James Bertolino and his family boarded a plane for their annual trip to Mexico with nothing on their minds but vacation.

“We were just thinking about warm weather and good times,” said Bertolino, a volunteer firefighter for the Troy Fire Department. “It ended up being something a lot more serious.”

Bertolino is credited with saving the life of a fellow passenger during that January 2023 trip, after a flight attendant noticed his fire department golf outing shirt and enlisted his help.

About 10 to 15 minutes before landing, Bertolino was informed that a passenger in the rear of the plane was experiencing a medical emergency.

“Without hesitation, he responded and found an older adult male barely responsive, sweating, and complaining of chest pain,” the fire department said on its Facebook page.

“Drawing upon his training and experience, Bertolino assessed the situation, checking the passenger’s weak and low pulse. With the available resources, he administered aid and was soon joined by a nurse passenger. As the medical emergency escalated, James took swift action, bringing out the automated external defibrillator (AED) and assisting in its application.”

Bertolino coordinated efforts with another passenger, a physician assistant, to administer aspirin and nitroglycerin. The passenger began to show signs of improvement.

The pilot made an emergency landing and medics arrived. Bertolino helped evacuate the passenger from the plane and transport him to an ambulance.

Bertolino said he doesn’t know the passenger’s ultimate fate, but the ill man was stabilized and conscious when he got off the plane.

“He was on his way,” he said.

That’s why Bertolino invests the time in training and going on emergency runs to be a volunteer firefighter.

“I’m just trying to give something back,” he said.

Bertolino, who works in computer repair, has been a Troy firefighter for almost eight years. Several family members served in volunteer departments around the Detroit area, he said.

“I’ve got pictures of me, 5 or 6 years old, on fire trucks,” he said.

Bertolino, a Troy resident, said he enjoys the camaraderie with volunteer firefighters from all walks of life.

He said his wife, MaryFrances and 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, understand the value of the volunteer force and are supportive, even when he has to drop everything and get to the station.

Bertolino received the fire department’s Lifesaving Award at a recent ceremony. He was among several personnel honored at the annual event.

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