KNOWS WHERE HE IS NOW: When he woke up in the hospital last Nov. 1, four days after collapsing while conducting Sunday services, Rev. Jeffrey Thompson’s first question was, ‘Where am I and what happened?’ Thanks to the firefighters and paramedics flanking him during the May 21 Fire Department Second Chance ceremony, the pastor of the Amity Baptist Church in Queens recovered from cardiac arrest and is back in the pulpit.

Every year the Fire Department responds to more than a half-million medical emergencies where every minute counts. With that call volume first-responders rarely have the luxury to double back and revel in what it means to save even a single life, never mind the thousands they do every year.

But on May 21 dozens of Firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics got that opportunity at the FDNY’s 25th Annual Second Chance Ceremony at the Liberty Warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront.

Honor Cardiac Rescues 

The annual event, held during National Emergency Medical Service Week, celebrated several cardiac-arrest responses where intervention resulted in the patient surviving what too often would be a life-ending event.  

This year the survival stories of 10 New Yorkers from all walks of life, ranging in age from 21 to 75, were recounted by Dr. Glenn H. Asaeda, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Director. The one thread tying them together was the seamless team response by Firefighters and Emergency Medical Service personnel. Two of the saves were aided by quick thinking civilians who used CPR for a life-saving result.

Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro told attendees that the annual breakfast was one of his favorite official events, made more special because the 25th annual celebration had drawn second-chance alumni from past years.

He recounted with pride the February  1998 second-chance story of Brittany Smith, 23, of Staten Island, who was on hand. Ms. Smith was only two-years-old when her choking on a toy-sized billiard ball resulted in her going into cardiac arrest. “Now, she has a two-year old of her own,” Mr. Nigro said.

We Bring Them Back’

“This is an acknowledgment of what we all got into this for, when somebody is at their worst day, they are not breathing, they are not alive and we show up and actually bring them back to life,” said Michael Grecco, vice president of District Council 37’s Local 2507, which represents Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics. “This makes everything worth it.”

No doubt Rev. Jeffrey Thompson, of the Amity Baptist Church in Queens, did not see his life-altering event coming in the midst of conducting Sunday services last Oct. 28 when he collapsed on his church’s alter in cardiac arrest. 

Luckily for Reverend Thompson, two of his congregants knew CPR and started chest compressions as a 911 call was put in. “I was performing church services, fell out an don’t have a memory past falling out,” the towering pastor told reporters. “I woke up on Thursday morning in the hospital and my first question was, where am I and what happened?”

He continued, “I am a preacher and so I speak every week about a God who gives second chances and I am certainly thankful to the EMTs, the Fire Department and those persons who were in the congregation who gave me a second chance as well.”

A Happier Reunion

At the press availability after the ceremony he was surrounded by the FDNY crew that saved his life, including Lieut. Christopher Garaizar, Firefighters Lee Nolan,  Robert Bressingham, Kevin Heaney, and James Hayden of Engine Company 275 who were the first to arrive. Also responding were Paramedics Giovanni Reggler and Shaun King from Station 54, and Lieut. John Marino from Station 50. 

“This is an excellent opportunity,” said Ms. Reggler. “I am glad we are all here to celebrate with him. We do this every day, but we don’t usually get to meet the people we have impacted.”

“He was fortunate to have immediate CPR, which is really, really important for his survival,” she added.

One of the honorees was former Local 2507 President Izzy Miranda, who has just a few months to go before retirement as an Instructor at the FDNY’s EMS Academy at Fort Totten.

In an interview he recounted last Sept. 27, he was working at the EMS Academy when Firefighter William Staudt, 63, assigned to the FDNY’s office for Research and Development collapsed in front of his co-workers.

Safety in Right Crowd

Fortunately for Mr. Staudt, he collapsed in an office where there was a high density of individuals with a lot of CPR training and experience who quickly went to work on their fallen co-worker.  Mr. Miranda said that after he used a defibrillator to shock the patient, “we noticed that his body moved a little” and that “he had his pulse and breathing back.”

Mr. Miranda is a strong proponent of universal CPR training. “I believe it should be a basic part of the [public-school] curriculum,” he said. “Even if they don’t save someone, there is always the possibility that they could help one of their relatives at home. They would know what to do beside calling 911.”

“We have a CPR unit within the Fire Department that’s trying to go out to the community to teach people CPR so that when somebody goes down, immediately compression of the chest can be done,” Dr. Asaeda said in an interview. “In this day and age, mouth-to-mouth is not really necessary with good cardiac compressions. So, it all starts there, with somebody starting CPR as soon as possible.”    

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