Grand Valley firefighters honored for life-saving efforts
Special to the Post Independent
Sixty-five-year-old Michael Murphy’s heart stopped Sept. 5.
Collapsed in the entryway of his home about six miles southeast of Parachute, Murphy was oblivious to the Grand Valley Fire Protection District (GVFPD) firefighters at his side racing against the clock to resuscitate him.
“The call came in at 10:59 p.m.,” GVFPD Deputy Fire Chief Chris Jackson said. “Our crews were dispatched to a male patient having trouble breathing.”
Three vehicles — a fire engine, ambulance and utility support truck — transporting eight dual-role firefighters, trained in both fire suppression and emergency medical response, departed immediately from two separate fire stations — each about 15 minutes from Murphy’s home.
“Breathing difficulty is a fairly common call type,” GVFPD Firefighter-Paramedic Cody Reece said. “We don’t usually get a ton of information from the call. But when dispatch tells us the caller is asking how far out we are, we usually know it’s serious.”
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The September night air was unseasonably warm and the roads were clear of snow, recalled Reece, the lead paramedic on the call.
Dispatched from GVFPD Fire Station No. 32, Reece’s fire engine was seconds behind the ambulance and utility truck dispatched from GVFPD Fire Station No. 31.
When Reece arrived, his team was already unloading a gurney from the ambulance.
Jackson said the firefighters had to react immediately.
“As the crew are walking up to the (caller’s) door, they see the patient in the doorway, and he collapses right in front of them,” Jackson said. “He went into respiratory and cardiac arrest.”
Typically, a healthy person’s heart can be stopped for about 10 minutes without resulting in long-term damage to the vital organ, he explained.
“The crew immediately puts him on the stretcher and began cardio pulmonary resuscitation,” Jackson said. “Once they got him into the ambulance, they began advanced cardiac life support … and within six minutes, they were able to get (Murphy’s) pulse to return.”
On Dec. 14, Murphy — still healing after a month-long hospital visit — presented each of the crew with the GVFPD Life Saver Medal of Honor at the district’s holiday ceremony for their actions on Sept. 5.
“It was probably the biggest honor of my life,” Murphy said. “It was extraordinary to be there — alive — and meet the people that saved my life.”
‘Train, train, train’
Not every call ends well.
“Proud,” Reece said, recalling the emotion he felt when presented the award. “I was proud. It’s encouraging to know that I’m fully capable of that — even though that’s not something I usually doubt. Sometimes you have a few negative outcomes, and you spend months mulling every little detail, wondering if there was something you could’ve done to make it turn out differently.”
With 12 years in the career, Reece said in situations like Murphy’s, firefighters are often operating on muscle memory.
“To get on scene and be told the patient just went down, you go from figuring out your next steps to making lightning-fast decisions about what needs to happen,” he explained. “In incidents like that, we’re operating on our lowest level of training.”
Each day on shift, firefighters spend hours training for scenarios where failure means the difference between life and death.
“Train, train, train,” Reece said, “so that when you do have to make those decisions, that training makes it easier to integrate as a crew and have everyone fall into their roles.”
As district supervisor on Sept. 5, Spaid not only personally oversaw the firefighters’ response to Murphy’s residence, but also ensured the district’s resources could respond to simultaneous calls if needed.
“We were a mixed batch that night,” he said. “We had a newer member on the crew and had just spent the whole day running cardiac arrest scenarios with her, so it was awesome to see that training reinforced that night.”
‘Good for the crew’
Signing on as a first responder isn’t about winning awards, but recognizing firefighters’ efforts is important for morale district-wide, Spaid said.
“In all honesty, we don’t usually get to hear about the outcome of a call,” he explained. “It was good to hear the positive outcome. It was good for the crew.”
Spaid said he entered the fire service in 2001 because of a sense of civic duty and a desire to work in a fast-paced environment.
“I like to help the community, and I like to see people smile,” he said. “I like the nature of the service — it’s always changing. It challenges my brain.”
Reece said he took the job because it provides the opportunity to learn something new every day.
“And, they let me play with million-dollar fire trucks,” he added, excitedly. “How cool is that?”
The Dec. 14 ceremony was not only a celebration of the firefighter’s efforts, but a chance to include their families.
“My 13-year-old was pretty ecstatic — she was pretty proud of dad, which in turn makes dad pretty proud,” said Reece, a father of three, adding with a chuckle, “My six year old just wanted to know if he could wear the medal.”
Jackson said he created the award ceremony after being promoted to Deputy Chief in 2018.
“This is our second year doing this,” he explained. “The awards are peer suggested throughout the year, and myself and the chief review those suggestions before making our final selections.”
For Murphy, it was an opportunity to thank the men and women responsible for giving him “a new lease on life.”
“To be given a second chance is pretty amazing,” he said. “I owe it all to them, and I plan to spend my days doing all the things I could never find time to before.”
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Ivan Jackson joined LIFT-UP as its new executive director in August.