New Berlin firefighter hospitalized

New Berlin firefighter hospitalized

15 October 2008

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USA — Firefighters called to an Interstate 10 grass fire Monday afternoon first had to save one of their own — performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a volunteer who lost control of his vehicle just as he arrived at the scene.

An official with University Hospital in San Antonio said Justin Burton, 37, was in stable condition Tuesday in the wake of an accident that occurred in his personal pickup truck on Interstate 10 as he was rushing to fight a grass fire with his wife, Sharon. Both are New Berlin volunteer firefighters.

Fire Chief Kurt Strey said his department, dispatched just after lunch to what a caller said was a large grass fire in the I-10 median at FM 775, arrived with three trucks to find two small areas burning and began setting up equipment to put them out. They called for help from the Marion Volunteer Fire Department.

As the firefighters already on scene made their attack preparations, the Burtons approached in their pickup, which coasted to a stop in the median, bumping the cable that divided the east and west sides of the interstate.

Firefighters watched the unusual accident as Sharon Burton, a firefighter/EMT, came on the radio calling for help because her husband had stopped breathing.

Lt. Scott McKenzie and Firefighter/EMT Alan Swanson rushed to the truck.

“They discovered Justin was unconscious and didn’t have any heart rate or respiration at all,” Strey said. “They pulled him out of the vehicle and began CPR. Scott radioed for an ambulance, and (Marion VFD Assistant Chief for EMS) David Retano arrived and realized there was something more grave going on than a grass fire.

Retano and New Berlin Fire Capt. Dave Caffey, a former Seguin firefighter and paramedic, jumped into the CPR team.

After several minutes, Strey said Burton began breathing on his own.

Schertz EMS took him to Guadalupe Regional Medical Center, and from there Burton was taken to University Hospital in San Antonio.

While the four firefighters worked to resuscitate Burton, others used one of the responding trucks to control and then extinguish the grass fires. The other trucks could not be used, Strey said.

“They either lacked for manpower while they worked to save Justin or, in one case, carried all of the medical equipment we needed,” Strey said. “We have several new hometown heroes among us who should be recognized for saving a life.”

It’s a tough enough job when working to save a neighbor or someone who lives up the road — something every volunteer firefighter or first responder in the business for any length of time learns to

deal with.

But it’s far worse, Strey said, when you’re working on one of your friends and fellow volunteers and the outcome isn’t everything you’d hoped for — or is at least questionable.

Tuesday, Strey said, no one was certain what had happened to Burton or what the outcome might be.

“I talked to Sharon this morning and there was no real news except his vitals were steady, but he’s had trouble regaining consciousness,” Strey said.

Strey said his men and Retano were waiting for word on Burton’s condition and wondering whether they could have done anything better or differently.

“For our young EMT, Alan, he’s having a bit of trouble. He’s glad we got Justin to the hospital, but he’s having a tough time reliving the whole thing, second-guessing himself and asking if he could have done anything different. Even for our seasoned veterans, it’s not exactly just another day on the job. But if you ask me, they did everything that could be done, and they did one hell of a job.”

They reacted, Strey said, when every second counted and did what their training taught them.

“They made quick and good EMS decisions and got the right equipment to the scene,” Strey said. “That team pitched in and did what they did on the side of the road and made the difference. They’ll need some heal time. Now, it’s a wait and see.”

Wait and see and answer the phone, Strey said.

The Seguin Fire Department had its own crisis going on while New Berlin was out on I-10, but Strey noted that Fire Marshal Greg Dreiss, himself a former volunteer, called as soon as he left the complex water tower rescue scene off Kingsbury Street.

Other firefighters and paramedics from Seguin, Schertz, Marion and other area departments have called as well, and the calls are much appreciated.

“They say the fire service is a brotherhood,” Strey said. “In New Berlin, we feel that today.”

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