By Mike Strasser, Staff WriterSeptember 8, 2017
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Firefighters are trained to respond to crisis anytime, anywhere -- and sometimes that happens off the clock and out of state.
That's what happened to Fort Drum Deputy Fire Chief Jason Brunet on Aug. 25 while waiting for a flight home at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
Brunet had been in San Antonio for a U.S. Army Installation Management Command fire chiefs conference. He said the majority of the course focused on discussing active shooter threats, so that was still fresh on his mind as he departed. Brunet said he was looking forward to getting out of the intense Texas humidity, and reports about an incoming hurricane had travelers eager to make their flights home.
During a short layover at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Brunet passed the time by chatting with a lady in the seat next to him, whose father is a retired Syracuse firefighter. He noticed an older couple walking by, and Brunet offered his seat to the man's wife. She declined because she wanted to sit next to her husband, and they continued to walk down the terminal.
"I'm guessing there were probably 300 to 400 people at the four terminals in this area, and I'm seeing this commotion -- airport staff running back and forth -- and I am immediately thinking active shooter," Brunet said.
He stood up and spotted the older man leaning against the metal frame of a window overlooking the airport runway.
"He did not look good at all," Brunet said. "I mean, you look at his face and knew he was dead. I went over to that side of the terminal when a gentleman had just grabbed him, and I held his head. We checked his pulse, and there was no pulse."
They removed his shirt and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Brunet said in the midst of all of the commotion surrounding them, a woman came forward who said that she was an emergency medical technician from New Haven.
"So now there were three of us assisting the man, and I yelled for an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and airport staff scrambled for that," Brunet said. "We were probably 60 or 80 compressions in at this time when we got the AED."
This piece of lifesaving equipment was familiar to Brunet, who has been a certified EMT for 24 years and who trains on it annually at Fort Drum. He said it was not the exact same model they have on post, but all AEDs basically function the same way.
"I get the pads out, turn it on and place it on the gentleman," he said. "Then the machine has to analyze and determine if there's any signs of life, or heart activity."
Brunet said that up to that point it was just like a training exercise until the machine read: "Shock advised."
"I have never personally had to shock someone before, and I can just remember saying to myself, 'We're really going to do this,'" Brunet said. "I tell everyone to 'stand clear' three times because that's protocol, and then I pressed the button to shock him. His whole body lurches forward a little bit. Still no pulse."
While compressions were still being performed, Brunet began breathing oxygen into the man's lungs with the pocket mask from the AED kit.
"We ended up doing four cycles -- the CPR protocol is 30 compressions and two breaths -- and somewhere in between there, he starts coughing," Brunet said. "He's breathing on his own, not great, but he has a pulse."
Brunet said that they continued giving the man rescue breaths as passengers began boarding his flight.
"The flight staff was like, 'Don't worry, we're not going to leave without you,' so then we're just basically holding the gentleman until the fire and ambulance crew comes in."
When emergency personnel arrived, Brunet briefed them on the situation, and then he returned to his seat with time left before his section was called for boarding.
"The lady I was talking to before just looked at me like, 'Oh, my God,' but I would have done that for anybody," he said. "That's just what we do."
No applause had broken out among the crowds who watched the three rescuers assist the victim, but Brunet said he was thanked with a few hugs and handshakes afterward. When he finally boarded the plane, the captain called his name over the intercom, and Brunet immediately thought he was going to have to fill out paperwork or an incident report. Instead, he and the other two good Samaritans were upgraded to first-class seats.
"I would have been happy with just the handshake, so that was a nice surprise," he said.
During the flight, Brunet said he had time to learn more about his fellow rescuers and discovered that the gentleman who responded first on the scene was an intensive care unit nurse at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse.
"So he knew exactly what he was doing, and so did the EMT from New Haven," he said. "We talked the whole way home. We talked about what we did, about colleges for our kids -- we talked about everything. She posted on her Facebook page something like, 'The right place at the right time with the right people' and that is absolutely, 100-percent true. It was truly a team effort."
Brunet credits the mandatory training that he, and all firefighters, receive that allowed him to respond quickly and correctly.
"We have great trainers here, and Capt. (David) Kuhl is the EMS trainer for the whole department," Brunet said. "All of our firefighters are at least basic EMTs, which includes the CPR and AED training. When they threw the AED at me, I didn't have to think because I just did everything the way we were trained. Nothing to it."
Kuhl said that he wasn't at all surprised to learn about what Brunet did, simply because he did what any first responder would do.
"That was pretty standard for what we do, and he's a go-getter, so it's not like he would sit and watch while other people acted," Kuhl said.
Brunet encourages others to take a CPR course and learn basic lifesaving procedures. Although public defibrillators come with step-by-step instructions, it is easier to become familiar with one in a class than during a crisis where time is critical. Brunet can attest to that.
"The man was dead, and within 30 seconds we were performing CPR on him," Brunet said. "If it wasn't for CPR and that AED, I don't think he would have made it. In this case, I think it was because we were right there and acted so fast that this gentleman had a positive outcome."
Fort Drum MEDDAC offers a basic life support provider course for all active-duty Soldiers and Department of Defense civilians on post on the first and third Thursdays of the month. The free course follows American Heart Association guidelines and falls under the Military Training Network. To register, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Red Cross in Watertown offers an adult First Aid / CPR / AED course for a fee. It meets at 203 North Hamilton St., Watertown. Upcoming classes are 9 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. Saturday, as well as Sept. 30 and Oct. 7.
The Jefferson County EMS also provides CPR / First Aid Training and can arrange for certified instructors to teach groups. For details, call (315) 786-3760.
To find a Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED class near you, visit http://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr.