Pine River Valley heroes received recognition this month for jumping into action, in dangerous situations, to save others’ lives.
In Bayfield, a bystander at a gym started CPR when another person collapsed – an act that poses unique risks during the coronavirus pandemic.
In Ignacio, two firefighters climbed into a sewage tank to rescue an unconscious man in a once-in-a-career rescue.
Suzanne Evans’ lifesaving efforts at the gym “made all the difference in the world,” said Bruce Evans, Upper Pine Fire Protection District chief.
Suzanne Evans of Bayfield, who has no relation to the fire chief, began chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a man who collapsed at Momentum Fitness in July in Bayfield. The man was experiencing a cardiac arrest and made a complete recovery, in part because Evans started CPR quickly.
“Bystander CPR makes a big difference between whether people succumb to a hypoxic injury from their cardiac arrest and whether they make it,” Bruce Evans said.
Upper Pine nominated Evans for a Citizen Rescuer Award for Valor granted by the Emergency Medical Services of Colorado. She received the award and was able to meet the man she helped save, Rob McGhehey, in early November.
“You have to assume that everybody potentially has COVID, certainly somebody that falls ill right in front of you,” Bruce Evans said. “For somebody to risk their exposure from assisting somebody like that, it’s a pretty brave and selfless act.”
In Ignacio, an emergency response crew received awards from the Los Pinos Fire Protection District on Monday for successfully saving a man during a dangerous rescue.
“To me, it’s odd to give awards to people who are doing their job, but this is one of those calls that could have easily turned fatal,” said Tony Harwig, Los Pinos chief. “It could have been fatal ... for the firefighters as well.”
On Oct. 14 near Ignacio, a man fell into a sewage tank on the back of a truck at the Southern Ute Water Treatment Facility.
He quickly lost consciousness because of gas emissions from the sewage, like methane and hydrogen sulfide, and low oxygen levels.
The rescue posed multiple unique challenges: the gaseous environment could have caused the emergency responders to lose consciousness; the unconscious individual was slippery because of the sewage and combative because of hypoxia; and confined-space rescues are some of the most dangerous performed by firefighters, Harwig said.
The response required knowledge of multiple types of gear, from gas monitors to a rapid intervention team kit, physical training and common sense concerning how to increase oxygen flow into the truck – all while staying calm, he said.
“It was just a very complicated, time-sensitive rescue,” Harwig said. “To be ready and respond to something that’s going to happen once in your career is commendable.”
Two Los Pinos crew members, Jen Sokol and Matt Misquez, received lifesaving awards during a board meeting Monday for conducting the rescue. They also had the opportunity to meet the man they rescued and his family at the meeting.
“To see him walk into the station this week with his family is the entire reason I am in this career – it makes all of the other not-so-great things that we have to see 100% worth it,” Sokol said.
“We couldn’t have done it without our amazing leadership and crew that kept us safe while we were in there, and the crew that transported the patient into the hospital,” Misquez and Sokol said jointly.
This month, Upper Pine River Fire Protection District also received the Children’s Hospital of Colorado Award for Commitment to Pediatric Emergency Care for 2020.
The award recognizes an EMS agency, medical facility or local or regional EMS system for its pre-hospital or out-of-hospital care and transport of pediatric patients.
This is the first time an agency in the Four Corners has been selected for the award and the first state EMS award for Upper Pine, a district news release said.