I dropped dead on Friday, Oct. 29, 2004, at approximately 1409 hours while working as the incident commander at an apartment fire in West Seattle. Only by the grace of God, quick work by Seattle firefighter/EMTs and firefighter/paramedics, and the miracles of modern medicine am I alive today to talk...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
I dropped dead on Friday, Oct. 29, 2004, at approximately 1409 hours while working as the incident commander at an apartment fire in West Seattle. Only by the grace of God, quick work by Seattle firefighter/EMTs and firefighter/paramedics, and the miracles of modern medicine am I alive today to talk about it.
On that date, I was a 53-year-old battalion chief with 30 years' experience as a professional firefighter. Just after eating lunch and then smoking a cigarette on the back porch of Station 11 in the southern part of the Seventh Battalion, the bells hit. I figured it was an aid call for Engine 11 until I heard the tones and dispatch for a structure fire a few blocks away.
I felt a slight, but sharp pain streak across the top of my chest from shoulder to shoulder just below the level of my collarbone while driving to the alarm location. I shrugged my shoulders and it went away, just as it had numerous times before when I would get a quick shot of adrenalin or be working physically hard. "I've got to quit smoking," I thought, as I once again dismissed the pain as an upper airway or musculo-skeletal problem.
I arrived at the location the same time as Engine 11, gave an initial report of no sign of fire or smoke from a newer two-story apartment building and established command with 11's investigating. The lieutenant and tailboard firefighter from 11's stretched a 200-foot pre-connected 1.5-inch line to the front door of the apartment located up a stairway and above a grade-level garage. Black smoke lazily fell out of the unit as soon as they kicked in the locked front door. I reported to our Fire Alarm Center that we now had smoke showing and ordered Engine 37 to lay a supply and a backup line to 11's. Other orders followed, just like for any room-and-contents apartment fire.
After a short while, I got impatient with the lack of progress underway and hollered at 11's lieutenant, asking what was taking so long. The reply was that the hallway was blocked by something and the hose was kinked. So I walked up a few steps, unkinked the hose and got a small whiff of smoke. I remember that it smelled unusually bad and acrid, but didn't think much more about it. As it turns out, it was cold smoke from a fire that had been smoldering for quite a while in a newer, tightly sealed structure. Engine 11 was having a difficult time locating the seat of the fire because a large couch was on end in the hallway and blocking the door to a back bedroom where the fire originated.
A little more time went by and most of the response had arrived at the location, although none of the other command officers had yet arrived at the command post. Ladder 11 broke out a window in the fire room and established positive-pressure ventilation. Firefighter/Paramedic Jonny Layefsky yelled to me that we just about had the fire tapped, as light-colored smoke and steam came blasting out of that ventilation exit point. I heard a muffled radio report and responded that it was unreadable. That's when everything started to get crazy and my life was to dramatically change in an instant.
I don't know if the following events happened over the course of a few seconds or in a nano-second. I started to feel confused and wondered if I was running the fire correctly. Then my vision narrowed; it came down from the top and up from the bottom and all I saw were the faces and helmets of the firefighters standing near me. I thought to myself, "Oh "expletive," something is really wrong here."
Then all sound went away and I was deaf, even though a gasoline-powered fan was operating in front of me and Engine 11's apparatus was pumping behind me. Then it was like somebody turned off the TV and everything went black, the blackest black I had ever seen. And that was it. That was all I saw, heard and felt. No pain, no anxiety, none of my life passed in front of my eyes, nothing.