While heroic firefighters lose their lives each year attempting the rescue of those trapped, many more of us lose our lives due to heart attacks and related medical emergencies. This month, a fire captain in Michigan responds, like any of us do regularly, to a house fire, but this time, the...
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While heroic firefighters lose their lives each year attempting the rescue of those trapped, many more of us lose our lives due to heart attacks and related medical emergencies. This month, a fire captain in Michigan responds, like any of us do regularly, to a house fire, but this time, the outcome is significantly different. Our appreciation to Captain Mark Burmeister of the Shelby-Benona Fire Department of Shelby, MI, for sharing his very personal story. We also thank Eric Bergman, a Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) and 14-year veteran of the fire service in Connecticut, and Dr. Raymond Basri, MD, FACP and deputy county fire coordinator in Orange County, NY, for their assistance and commentary.
The following account is by Captain Burmeister:
I'm sitting at my computer, wondering why I am writing my story for FirehouseÂ® Magazine. Would anyone care what a 46-year-old captain from a small rural on-call fire department in western Michigan has to say? My story nearly ended on May 27, 2008, when I experienced a blockage in the left anterior descending artery of my heart, known in the medical field as a "widow maker" (I didn't tell my wife that until I was on the road to recovery).
It was a typical Tuesday afternoon. The weather was mild for the day after Memorial Day. I was just getting ready to eat dinner with my wife and 7-year- old daughter when my department received a page for a house fire with smoke and flames visible. On my way to the station, dispatch reported they had advised the homeowner to evacuate, but he was returning inside to save the family's belongings. That is when I requested an ambulance be sent to the scene. Chief Jack White arrived on scene, established command, called a working fire and began operations.
I arrived on scene in the second-in engine and was told to head to the second floor with my crew. The upstairs was heavily charged with smoke. We proceeded to use hydraulic ventilation to locate the fire until the roof could be vented. After exhausting our air supply, we retreated and reported to our squad for an air bottle change and reassignment. While waiting in staging, I felt a sharp pain in my chest like I had never felt before. As I removed my facepiece to tell Chief White I was done, the look in his eyes told me I looked as bad as I felt and was promptly sent to the waiting ambulance with absolutely no objection from me.
I knew the ambulance crew well because my full-time job is a paramedic/supervisor for the ambulance service. I was hooked up to the heart monitor. I had ST elevations in multiple leads and I was having a heart attack. The course of treatment began immediately in the back of that ambulance, continued at the local community hospital and didn't slow down until I had a stent (a small metal mesh tube used to keep the artery open) placed in my artery and was put in the ICU bed at a larger hospital 30 miles from home.
Back to why I writing this after one of my three-times-a-week rehabilitation sessions. I was reading stories on www.firefighterclosecalls.com and I sent in a copy of an article the local newspaper wrote about my ordeal. I received an e-mail from Chief Goldfeder asking me to write a more thorough letter with more details, my observations and comments. Here they are in the sincere hope this helps other firefighters.
The most notable thing that went right was the presence of an ALS ambulance on scene. This was not a standard in our area, at least not that early in the operation. I requested it because of the homeowner returning to the structure, not thinking it would save my life. Where we were operating it would have taken a minimum of eight minutes to get them on scene. I had ALS cardiac care within three minutes of onset of symptoms and was on the road to the hospital in 10.
From a firefighting standpoint, our system of automatic mutual aid assured we had enough help on scene or on the way to take over for me and the firefighters who came to my aid, allowing us to continue safe operations. A second ambulance was sent to replace the one transporting me and treated another firefighter for heat exhaustion.