Ore. Fire Victim Saved by Heroics And New Drug

April 3, 2013
A quick response, routine heroics of firefighters and a new expensive drug helped save a Portland man from dying of smoke inhalation.

April 01--It was a rainy March day last year when the call from dispatch crackled over the radio at Station 25 on Southeast Holgate Boulevard: House fire, with flames showing and a possible victim inside.

Lt. Rian Minto and his three-person crew were on their truck and out the door in one minute, and made the 15-block trip to the fire in a minute more. Flames were shooting out of the roof of 44-year-old Daniel Cooper's house in the 3100 block of Southeast 51st Avenue. A neighbor told Minto she believed Cooper was still inside.

"This is what we train for every day," Minto, now a captain with the Portland Fire Bureau, said Monday. "And it really showed how important it is to have the stations strategically placed."

Before the day would end, a life would be saved not only by a quick response time and the routine heroics of firefighters, but by a new, expensive drug designed to keep people from dying from smoke inhalation.

On Monday, after a long recovery that's still ongoing, Cooper was reunited with Minto and the crew from Station 25 at a news conference. The event was also a chance to talk about the special drug that firefighters used on Cooper that day that probably saved his life.

As other fire crews arrived and began laying hose, others began tossing wood pallets stacked near the front door into the yard. Minto and another firefighter geared up and went inside, while two others went around to see if they could get inside through the back door.

Heat and thick black smoke forced Minto and his fellow firefighter to the floor; there was no way to see if anyone was trapped inside, so they used their hands to feel in front of them, crawling down a hallway toward a first floor bathroom.

That's where they found Cooper, a carpenter by trade, unconscious and unresponsive. Minto and other firefighters grabbed Cooper by the legs and upper torso and ran him into the yard. He was barely alive, but fire paramedics immediately went to work to resuscitate Cooper, who was clearly suffering from severe smoke inhalation.

"It was a team effort across the board -- it was peak performance that day," Minto said.

Although carbon monoxide from a house fire can kill, studies have found that newer synthetic materials in homes put out a toxic gas that can contain cyanide, said Dep. Chief John Nohr.

Three years ago, the Portland Fire Bureau equipped the four on-duty battalion chiefs with $700 cyanokits, which contain a drug that binds with the cyanide in a victim's bloodstream. It is only used in extreme conditions.

"That allows the blood to accept oxygen," Nohr said. A paramedic treating Cooper grabbed the kit from the battalion chief on scene and administered the drug to him. Nohr said Cooper was one of about six people in Portland each year who benefit from the drug.

Cooper was in a coma for a month, and although he had to relearn how to speak, how to walk, how to eat "and do everything again" during his year-long recovery, he was able to clearly articulate how he felt about Minto.

"He's awfully humble, but he is a hero," Cooper said. "Even though he was doing his job, he did it without question. He got right in there and got me off the bathroom floor."

Cooper was able to joke about a recovery that had its ups and downs, and credited his family for making sure he doesn't sit and watch TV all the time. For the first couple of months after coming out of the coma, Cooper said he had to be fed by someone else.

"When that chore was returned to me it was kind of a messy ordeal," he said. "I was like an overgrown 2-year-old."

It's been only in the past couple of months that he has been able too open a can of soda or brush his own teeth.

"It's hard to keep my head up sometimes," he said. "I wanted to be around a little bit longer, but it was a long road to get to this point."

--Stuart Tomlinson

Copyright 2013 - The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

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