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On Sept. 25, 2011, Lieutenant Keith Rankin, 38, of the Lancaster Township Fire Department in Lancaster County, PA, suffered a fatal cardiac emergency while participating in a live-burn exercise at the Lancaster County Fire School.
I am very fortunate to know many, many people in our business. Keith was one of those. Several years ago, I had the privilege of teaching with a group of firefighters and chiefs for an organization called Command School Inc., run by Lancaster Township Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Usdin. Glenn and I have been “fire service” friends since the 1970s and Keith was a firefighter on Glenn’s fire department – Lancaster Township. I met Keith through Command School, and that’s how Keith and I became friends. I have met numerous outstanding firefighters over the years, in particular when we taught for Command School. One of them is Deputy Chief Robert R. Devonshire Jr. of Strasburg Fire Company 1, also in Lancaster County.
This close call is about how the line-of-duty death of Keith Rankin saved the life of Bob Devonshire. Our thanks to Chief Devonshire for his interest in sharing this story. Additionally, we offer our continued heartfelt condolences to the members of the Lancaster Township Fire Department, along with the friends and especially the family of Keith Rankin, who even after his passing, continues to make as difference in the lives of firefighters all over the world.
This account is by Deputy Chief Robert R. Devonshire:
On Sept. 25, 2011, the Lancaster County fire and EMS community was shocked to find out that a very well-known and highly respected fire officer, Lieutenant Keith Rankin, had a sudden and fatal cardiac emergency while at a live-burn exercise in a fixed Class A burn facility. Along with my brothers, sisters, friends and family, we mourned the loss of Keith.
The loss was sad enough. Then, 131 days later, I found myself lying in the emergency room at Lancaster General Hospital (LGH), staring at the ceiling and wondering why I had AED (automated external defibrillator) pads on my chest and where did all these nurses and doctors just come from.
The flutter in my chest
On Friday, Feb. 3, 2012, I woke up and was lying in bed when I felt a fluttering feeling in my chest. This was not out of the ordinary for me. Over the past few years, I had this feeling from time to time. The flutter would last two or three seconds and would happen about once every two or three months. I would describe the feeling as if my heart was taking a big gulp periodically. My family doctor indicated this could be normal and to keep an eye on it. I got up, got dressed and headed to work. On my drive into the office, I felt the fluttering again.
My initial thoughts were how strange this was. I had never felt it that early in the day before nor had I felt it more than once a day. I arrived at work – I work full time as a maintenance superintendent for the County of Lancaster – and began my day. About an hour later, I felt a flutter in my chest for the third time and I knew something was not right. I contacted my family doctor to let him know. My doctor was on vacation and another doctor, who was not familiar with me, told me to go to the LGH emergency department and have them run a strip on me to see what was going on.
I left the office and drove myself to the ER, which in hindsight was a really stupid thing to do. By the time I got into an exam room, the fluttering had come and gone about six times since I woke up that morning. The ER nurses had me hooked up to a 12-lead EKG, trying to capture and print my heart rhythm during a flutter. I was sitting upright talking to my nurse, George Scheurich (a brother firefighter), when I felt one start. I remember saying, “I feel one starting,” and George telling me he could see it on the EKG. The next memory I have is lying flat on my back and looking at the ceiling.