Oak Ridge firefighters have saved five lives so far this year, and the department’s fire trucks—which carry $30,000 worth of medical gear, including cardiac equipment—played a key role, Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said this month.
The five lives have all been saved since January; they were cardiac saves, Kerley said.
“That wouldn’t happen without these trucks,” the chief said during a September 5 ceremony to unveil three new Sutphen fire engines, the first for the Oak Ridge Fire Department in about 16 years.
During that ceremony, three firefighters received Lifesaving Medals for their role in saving the life of Jason Harness, 50, on July 21 at Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue.
Harness’ wife, Nicole Harness, reported that her husband was in the car and not breathing that summer evening. The rescuers who responded moved Jason Harness from the vehicle to the ground, where “he was found to be pulseless, not breathing, and unresponsive,” Assistant Fire Chief Josh Waldo said.
Harness had had a massive heart attack, with 100 percent blockage.
“CPR was immediately enacted by the crew,” Waldo said. “Mr. Harness’ airway was secured, and he was defibrillated a total of eight times and administered drugs and fluids in accordance with medical protocols.”
Harness was taken to Methodist Medical Center by Anderson County EMS. ORFD Captain Eric Rackard rode on the ambulance and so did firefighter and engineer Michael Vanosdale.
Harness was discharged from the hospital seven days later, and he attended the September 5 ceremony, handing out the Lifesaving Medals to Rackard, Vanosdale, and firefighter and paramedic Austin Keathley.
“We owe them everything,” Nicole Harness said. “These are the men that saved my husband’s life.”
“God put them where they needed to be,” Jason Harness said.
Others who helped save Harness included Battalion Chief David Harrington and the Anderson County EMS crew, which included Matt Galyon, Zach Panter, and Matt Burrell.
Kerley said the ORFD’s new custom-built, mostly computerized fire trucks are set up better for medical calls. Those calls were once about 15 percent of firefighters’ calls, but they now make up about 85 percent of calls, Kerley said.
“We weren’t quite set up for medical calls on our other trucks,” he said.
In the new trucks, the emergency medical equipment is inside the temperature-controlled cab, rather than outside, and it includes cardiac gear, a cardiac monitor, and trauma and suction equipment, among other things, firefighter and engineer Ben Taylor said.
Kerley said the trucks allow firefighters to do everything an ambulance does, with the exception of administering drugs.
The three new fire engines, about a yard longer than the three that they replace, are valued at $1.4 million total. The new trucks are identical, making repairs and training much simpler.
Taylor pointed out some of the features of the new trucks, including a front discharge; side- and front-mounted LED lights, which are better at night; a larger four-inch discharge; hose compartments that are lower, making them safer and easier to access; color-coded pump controls for fire hoses; and a telescoping, remotely-operated water-spraying deck gun on top of the fire truck.
The Oak Ridge City Council approved the new fire trucks in September 2013. Kerley said he hopes they last about 30 years. The three 16-year-old engines they replace will be put into reserve.
“For us to buy a fire truck is a very special occasion,” Kerley said.
Emphasizing the role of fire prevention during the September 5 ceremony, Kerley also recognized an Oak Ridge family that used a fire escape plan to safely escape from a February 2012 fire on Clifton Circle. Alex Franklin, one of the family’s three boys, had urged the family to develop a fire escape plan, mother Heather Franklin said.
About a week after they did so, their house caught on fire and was destroyed, she said. But thanks to the fire escape plan, everyone made it out safely.
Today, the family contributes to a fire safety video, and Alex now wants to be a firefighter, Heather Franklin said.