Men help save basketball teammate’s life with first aid

They’re honored by Fire District 3, which stresses value of CPR training

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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BATTLE GROUND — As they walked off the court April 24, Jeremy Browning joked with George Tierney, who’s many years his senior, about how Browning’s getting too old for basketball.

“I say, ‘Crap, George, I’m not going to play, my knees are getting that bad,'” Browning said Monday between games at Chief Umtuch Middle School in Battle Ground.

They had just finished a game of basketball in their 35-and-older community league, which plays at the school.

“All I did was turn around,” Browning said, then thud. Tierney, 69, had fallen.

The members of the Over the Hill league sprang to action. They checked his vitals, started chest compressions, called 911 and grabbed one of the school’s automated external defibrillators. Their efforts helped save Tierney’s life.

Clark County Fire District 3 honored the group at a Wednesday evening gathering at Chief Umtuch Middle School.

Between jokes about how a league with a name like Over the Hill seemed a bit broad for a 35-and-older league, school and fire district officials lauded the team’s actions.

Fire District Chief Steve Wrightson said the team’s help meant paramedics arrived to the best situation they could hope for.

“We had CPR-trained people, we had people willing to jump in and help — that doesn’t always happen,” Wrightson said. “And a facility that is prepared with the right equipment.”

He encouraged those present Wednesday to seek out CPR training opportunities, saying District 3 can help.

Des Gomez, a firefighter-paramedic on the crew that responded to the call, said his group arrived to find league members flagging them down and holding open the door to the school, which saved the medics the time of fishing out their master key.

They then ran to the gym to find a group performing CPR on Tierney, and the voice commands coming from the AED.

“We’re thinking, there’s a lot of good things happening here,” Gomez said.

The medics were able to get a pulse, one that steadily grew in strength, and Tierney’s body was strong enough to be resistant to intubation, he said, which was another good sign. Soon after, Tierney was speaking.

“George, you don’t remember this, but we probably had a 15-minute conversation” in the ambulance, Gomez said.

In a cardiac-arrest situation, time counts for a lot, Gomez said. The team members called 911, started CPR and used the AED, all which made their work and that of the doctors in the hospital more likely to succeed.

“We would never get to that point if you guys didn’t do what you did at those first few steps, so by acting, and doing what you did, that’s why were here tonight,” he said. “You guys are really the heroes, you guys are the lifesavers.”

League members Reinhardt, Browning, Geoff Busch, Michael Dolan, Steve Bowers, Roland Dizon and Russ Grant received awards.

There’s an AED in each school in the district, according to Battle Ground Public Schools, and it was the first time one had been used.

Between games Monday, Reinhardt recalled rushing to see what was wrong when Tierney first fell down. He started doing chest compressions, something he’d done many times in his nearly 30 years as a firefighter in Portland.

“But never on a close friend. I’ve known George for 40 years, and I never thought I’d be doing CPR on him,” he said. “It was quite an experience.”

Browning works in construction and leads his company’s safety team. That job comes with regular first aid training, including AEDs and CPR.

It’s not something you ever want to need to know, he said, but he’s glad now.

“One of our old finance guys, a week after a (CPR) class, his neighbor had a heart attack,” Browning said. “He went over there and performed CPR on him and waited until the medics got there. Saved his neighbor’s life.”

Between 20 years in the Navy and 11 years working around high-voltage lines with the Bonneville Power Administration, Dizon had ample first aid experience, he said Monday.

Dizon was the one who grabbed the AED.

“Before we were, like, teammates,” he said. “Now we’re like family.”

Between handshakes and hugs at Wednesday’s event, a standing and moving Tierney didn’t appear obviously worse for the wear, despite the quadruple-bypass surgery he underwent at the hospital.

He’s supposed to rest for the next six weeks, he said, and then he can start physical therapy. He also referees high school basketball games, and he hopes to be able to go back next season — and get back to playing basketball himself.

“I just have to thank God they did what they did, because I wouldn’t be here otherwise,” he said. “I don’t know how I can thank them.”

After the speeches Wednesday, many of the league members went back to the school’s gym to play basketball.