The call came in just before 8 on an autumn morning. The dispatcher said a man was down and unresponsive at the basketball courts on Harris Street at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Port Hueneme.
Five firefighters from Station 73 on Patterson Road responded immediately and found the man’s colleagues already performing CPR. The man was not breathing and had no pulse.
But today, the man is alive and well, and the five firefighters who helped save his life were honored last month with a Commander, Navy Installations Command (CNIC) Life Saving Award.
Capt. Larry Vasquez, commanding officer, Naval Base Ventura County, presented the award Tuesday, Dec. 18, to Engineer Sammy Cardona, the acting captain during the Oct. 14 incident, and firefighters Michael Thomas, Adrian Orellana, James Jones and James Madera.
“I’ve been involved with plenty of full cardiac arrests, but this is the first one I know of where the person walked out of the hospital,” Madera said. “Most of them don’t end that way.”
Madera credited the man’s colleagues with having the immediate presence of mind to call 911 and initiating CPR.
“They deserve as much credit as anybody for saving the man’s life,” he said. “They started working on him the minute he went down. They deserve a ton of credit.”
There were other factors at work, he added.
“In his favor, the man was young,” he explained. “There was somebody there to respond immediately. The response time by the ambulance was quick, and we’re fairly close to the hospital.”
As soon as they arrived at the basketball courts, the firefighters determined the man had no pulse. They made sure his airway was clear, set up oxygen, took over the chest compressions and got him out of his sweatshirt so they could apply the defibrillation pads.
“We worked quickly to get as much done as we could before the advanced life support ambulance arrived,” Madera explained. “There’s more manpower on scene and there’s more room to work.”
Firefighters Thomas and Orellana continued to perform CPR in the ambulance as it headed to the hospital.
In all, the firefighters performed CPR for 45 minutes and used the defibrillator five times.
“Their diligent efforts eventually paid off, as they were able to restore his heartbeat just prior to turning him over to the emergency room staff at St. John’s Hospital,” said Fire Chief John Adkins. “The basic criteria for a CNIC Life Saving Award is that the patient had no viable heartbeat on arrival and the efforts put forth restored vital functions to the point where the victim survived for at least 24 hours. In this case, the man is well on his way to making a full recovery.”
Madera called the case “awesome.”
“It’s the best outcome possible,” he said. “It’s exciting. We all show up to work every day hoping to make a difference.”