Firefighter saves firefighter with Heimlich maneuver

Breakfast almost took a turn for the worse when a slab of pancake became lodged in a firefighter’s windpipe Sept. 29.

What followed was fast action by a fellow firefighter, turning a life-threatening situation into a minor event of the day, and one that fellow firefighters can now look back on and laugh about.

The shift started normally that morning at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Area A Fire Station 1.

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“I made breakfast for the station and was the first to get breakfast because the cook gets the first plate,” said Andrew Ohls, a Wright-Patterson firefighter. “So I got my plate and sat down with a plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes.

“I cut a really big piece of pancake and just stuffed it in my mouth, right,” Ohls said, “and it was absolutely delicious. I love blueberry pancakes, still do to this day. I made it and wasn’t going to waste a piece.”

Only one piece didn’t go down the right pipe and wound up lodged in his windpipe, blocking the flow of air. But it was the right time, right place and right team to happen to, said Ohls laughingly.

“I tried to choke it down, but it was stuck. I didn’t let them know because I’m not drawing attention to myself because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself,” said Ohls. “Getting one of us to say we’re in need takes a lot.”

But choking prevents oxygen from getting to the lungs and brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain for more than four minutes may cause brain damage or death, according to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Fellow firefighter Aron Chaney was the first to recognize Ohls’ situation, asking if he was choking. Ohls could only nod his head to finally acknowledge the situation.

“I was turning red, walls were closing, and I felt like I was black out,’” said Ohls. “Out of all the things going through my head, I thought, ‘I’m going to die. Somebody’s going to have to come in for me and work overtime. I’m not tapping out.’”

Chaney jumped behind Ohls, grabbed his midsection and performed the Heimlich maneuver. The maneuver applies a strong, sudden pressure to a person’s abdomen to lift the person’s diaphragm and expel air from his lungs, forcing a blockage – in this case a piece of pancake – from the choking person’s windpipe.

On the second try, that piece of pancakes was sent flying across the room.

“As soon as I popped that out and got a breath, it was instant relief,” said Ohls.

And with that, came the ribbing from his fellow firefighters.

“Again, I’m truly thankful Aron was there and was able to save my life. That’s the serious part of this,” said Ohls. “Without him, I would’ve blacked out or died. That’s it in a nutshell.”

It wasn’t something that somebody else wouldn’t have done, said Chaney.

“I just happened to be at the right place and the right time. It’s in our nature,” he said.

What’s also in the firefighters’ nature is acknowledging the event and moving on to continue work and being ready for the next emergency – outside of the station.

“You move on. It’s something that’s accomplished and then you push forward. Then it’s on to the next task, on to the next call. The weird thing about our profession is one minute, we’re walking around a building doing an inspection, and the next minute you’re doing CPR on somebody. There’s such a broad range of things that we do,” said Ohls. “This was a life-and-death thing, but our humor really comes in to play and we laugh about it.”

“We’re probably the one place that can laugh about it,” added Chaney.

After that is was back to normal business for the firefighters – being ready for the next call, which could be meeting someone on their worst day and working to solve their problems.

Wright-Patterson’s Fire Department answers more than 1,100 emergency calls per year. The majority of those calls are for medical assistance.

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