The top brass from several agencies gathered in Burlington on Monday to explain how a group of firefighters wound up in the hospital this weekend when a building collapsed as they were trying to revive a heart attack victim.
A total of seven firefighters suffered varying degrees of injury during this calamity, which occurred on Saturday evening after a man, who ultimately died on the scene, suffered a heart attack on the roof of an unfinished outbuilding at 557 Brycewood Drive.
According to Burlington’s fire department, personnel from multiple agencies were dispatched at 5:15 p.m. to this address in eastern Guilford County, which is located on the westernmost fringes of Burlington’s municipal limits. The first to arrive on the scene were members of Whitsett’s rural fire department, which has a long-standing agreement with Burlington to answer emergency calls on the city’s western periphery.
Having reached the scene within three minutes of dispatch, the fire company from Whitsett clamored onto the roof of the outbuilding to tend to the heart attack victim, who had apparently gone into cardiac arrest while helping the homeowner with the building’s construction.
These actions on the part of Whitsett’s firefighters were all done by the book, according to Daniel Shoffner, a battalion chief and public information officer for Burlington’s fire department.
“When dealing with a cardiac arrest victim,” Shoffner recalled during a news conference that Burlington’s fire department hosted on Monday, “what is of the utmost importance is administering chest compressions and delivering electric shocks via a defibrillator as quickly as possible, and that’s what these firefighters were aiming to do.”
The firefighters from Whitsett were soon joined by their counterparts from Burlington’s fire department as well as a rescue unit with Guilford County Emergency Services. Shoffner recalled that the first responders from Whitsett continued to apply chest compressions and electric shocks even as the later arrivals made preparations to move the patient off of the roof of the one-story structure.
It was at this critical juncture that the partially-completed outbuilding apparently lost its structural integrity.
“There was no precursor,” recalled Bobby Carmon, Guilford County’s interim fire marshal. “In talking to all the first responders who were on the scene, they were just doing their thing, and then all of a sudden…”
By the time the dust settled, four Whitsett firefighters had been injured, along with two members of the Guilford County rescue unit and one municipal fire fighter from Burlington.
Shoffner conceded that the Burlington firefighter ultimately fared better than his counterparts from the other agencies. Treated and released at the scene, this member of the city’s fire department was reportedly back on duty by the time that the agency’s higher ups convened their news conference on Monday.
In the meantime, the other six firefighters were rushed off to area hospitals with injuries that included a fractured wrist and a cut to the head. The most serious wounds were apparently sustained by a firefighter with Guilford County Emergency Services who, as of Monday, was still in the hospital, recovering from surgery that he had received after the accident. The other firefighters had been treated and released before Monday’s news conference began.
Shoffner noted that firefighters who weren’t injured in the building’s collapse rallied to the assistance of their injured comrades and took over the care of the heart attack victim. He insisted that this sort of devotion to duty is all in a day’s work for people in the firefighting profession.
“We’re all here to serve the public,” he added, “and even when something happens to us, we’re all going to pick up the pieces on the scene and do our best to continue serving the patient and look after each other.”
In this instance, the determination of Shoffner’s fellow firefighters apparently wasn’t enough to save the patient whose heart attack had prompted the original emergency call.
According to Kyle Paschal, a deputy fire chief with Guilford County Emergency Services, this 54-year-old man never regained consciousness despite the best efforts of emergency personnel.
“After the collapse, the patient was extricated from the debris, and resuscitative efforts were continued for approximately another 45 minutes,” he said. “The information we have is that the cause of the patient’s death was the cardiac issue [and not the building’s collapse].”