Growing Up in Alameda: A gift that keeps on living

Growing Up in Alameda: A gift that keeps on living

Dave LeMoine

Station Four, 8:30 p.m. December 23

I’m lieutenant at Alameda Fire Station Four, Harbor Bay Isle, and John Laramie is the engineer. We’re looking forward to a quiet shift being that Harbor Bay is in the suburbs.

The only thing keeping us awake this afternoon is the constant thud of golf clubs on the 16th hole of the golf complex and an occasional ball bouncing off my office wall. A trip to the store, some familiarization, and back home for a quick workout; the day is done. It’s so different from our inner city stations.

It’s six p.m. and dinner is over; the TV is on in the day room. Life is good. As I finish my reports, it’s shaping up to be a quiet night. Eight p.m., I think I’ll crawl into bed, watch a little TV, maybe a Christmas special, and sleep through the night.

Nine p.m., tone alert: “Attention all stations, we have a still (response) for Engine 4 to the 300 block of Maitland Drive, the report of a three month old child not breathing.”

These are the heartrending words that move even the slowest firefighter. In one motion I’m in my turnouts, down the hall, and onto the engine. We clear the apparatus room door, left on Mecartney, left on Maitland.

“It’s about three blocks down, John,” I yell. No need to say anything to John, he knows his job. Somehow the talking calms me.

As we pass Melrose Avenue, I see in the headlights a man coming out from between two parked cars carrying what looks like a Cabbage Patch doll. John pulls to a stop as I clear the cab and move into the headlights. I reach for his daughter and can see that she’s blue.

He starts to hand her to me but pulls back reluctantly; I reassure him and he releases his grip. She’s so small, maybe eight pounds, too small for the breathing equipment on our rig. I think to myself, Rescue 1 is two minutes out. She feels like my daughters in my arms.

Against protocol, I start mouth to mouth by sucking. I can feel a good air exchange and then light puffs. Her color returns; she has a pulse. I feel such an urgency to get her to the hospital; I turn and start to move alongside Engine 4 in the direction of the ambulance, as if it would make any difference. But a few feet is a few feet closer to the paramedics, which is a few feet closer to the hospital.

By now, I can see Medical 1 two blocks away. I still have a good air exchange but no response. The ambulance is on the scene. It’s great to see Mike, the only paramedic in Alameda fire.

“Mike, I got a clear airway. Her color is returning but she’s not responding.”

The three of us get in the back of the ambulance and the driver takes off for emergency. Protocol, again, calls for strapping the patient down. One belt across her stomach; it’s bordering on the ridiculous. Mike has her on oxygen. I try flicking her foot with no response.

Come on, kid. Breathe!

Emergency has been alerted; we’re moving fast. Over the bridge, down Otis, right on Willow, then into the hospital parking lot. As we pull up to the door, we see four nurses and two orderlies. A little overkill, but it’s a baby!

No need for the gurney. Mike carries her into the operating room and on to the bed; she’s still non-responsive. Five more minutes, which seem like hours, my job is done and I back against the wall to make room for the pros.

She takes a long, urgent breath and starts kicking and crying. I look around the room and everyone is in tears.

Back to Station Four, we all know that we are here this day for the real purpose driven life. What starts as a slow day ends in adrenaline, elation and exhaustion. That’s what we do … just another day in paradise.

At home the next day I share the story with my two girls. They agree that the baby needs stuffed animals for Christmas. A quick visit and all is well in the world, for now.

It turns out that the little girl was a twin and both girls had a fixable esophageal birth defect. A trip to Children’s Hospital in Oakland and an operation on each, and they’re okay.

Eight years later, after running the engine at a fully involved house fire, with the fire out and things settling down, our job turns to returning equipment to the rig. We call it “mopping up.” I am approached by an unfamiliar woman who says, “Dave, you don’t know me but I know you. You saved my baby. She’s now in third grade. She and her sister are doing great. Thank you!”

As she turns away, I’m left standing there without words. We don’t always have successful saves, but victories like this are enough to pay for the bad calls that are inevitable. Community service with God’s help, that’s what we firefighters do. I am truly blessed.

Comments

Submitted by Patty LeMoine -... (not verified) on Wed, May 13, 2015

Beautiful story, Dave, and so well written. Though I've read it many times, I still am so proud of you! You're awesome!