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A Rescue in Bethesda
Comments () | Published August 1, 2009

Neighbors gathered around him. Some wept. Judith Hackett brought a blanket from her house and wrapped it around his shoulders. Ruth Hartmann, who had driven Ami Susan home from the doctor’s office the day she learned she’d lost her twins, put her arm around him.

Kathleen Sheffield, who lived across the street and had two young children, sat down next to Michael and tried to block his view of the firefighters emerging with the boys, but he saw one of them, limp and lifeless.

Sheffield saw the same thing. Oh, my God, she thought, the children are gone.

“What’s going on?” Michael asked.

“Two are out of the house,” she said.

“Are they alive?”

“The paramedics are working on them.”

She asked if he wanted to pray. He said he did, and they held hands.

“Dear God,” she pleaded, “please be here with us today.”

Paramedics Mary Davis and Damon Lewis arrived from the fire station at Battery Lane and Old Georgetown Road and maneuvered their medic-unit ambulance as close as they could to Buc’s. Davis—who had begun with the fire service 20 years earlier while a student at the University of Maryland—ran up to Resnick and Buc.

“Do you want to treat both kids in this unit or move one of them to mine?” she asked.

“Let’s move one to your ambulance,” Resnick said.

She took Bricen from Resnick and carried him to her ambulance, laid him down, and continued squeezing oxygen into his lungs. With each child in his own ambulance, there was room for more hands to give aid.

Davis kept squeezing while Lewis put a stethoscope on Bricen’s chest. He could detect a heartbeat but no breathing. Every few seconds, he heard what he thought to be “agonal respirations.” A normal child would have 20 or so strong respirations a minute. He knew Bricen was barely hanging onto life.

“If we don’t do everything right,” Lewis thought, “we’ll lose him.”

He measured Bricen with a Broselow tape. Based on a child’s length, the tape calculates the appropriate size of tubing and drug dosages. Bricen measured “yellow 14.”

Buc wanted to get moving. Battalion chiefs Resnick and Gaegler had enlisted firefighters to drive the ambulances to Children’s National Medical Center to free the paramedics to work on the children.

Buc yelled, “We need to get to a hospital—now!”

The back doors slammed shut, and Aiden’s ambulance pulled away with sirens wailing while Buc and emergency medical technician Brian Consolo worked inside to save the little boy’s life.

“Keep it smooth,” Buc told the driver. “We’re working back here.”

A minute later, the second ambulance left with Davis and Lewis working to save Bricen. Children’s Hospital had been alerted to expect the triplets. Buc called to update the emergency department as the ambulance sped toward the hospital.

“We are bringing in a toddler exposed to smoke for an undetermined time,” he reported. “He is unconscious with a respiration rate of five—weak pulse. We’re bagging him and bringing him to your location.” He estimated the time of arrival at about ten minutes.

Paramedics in both ambulances worried that the boys had suffered airway burns from breathing hot smoke. If their airways began to swell, their air supply could be shut off. They didn’t want to intubate and ventilate the boys if they could avoid it—the procedure is best performed at a hospital. They kept putting a stethoscope on the boys’ tracheas to listen for telltale whistling sounds. They were relieved when they heard none.

In the first five minutes, there were too few firefighters and too little equipment at the scene. Then more fire engines arrived. Firefighters carried more hose lines into the house, set up ventilating fans, and raised a ladder to the triplets’ bedroom window. This freed Oglesby to run upstairs with Sealey to find Coleson. They burst into the bedroom, still hot and dense with smoke, and detected a faint brightness from a front window. Sealey knocked out the glass with his Halligan bar to ventilate the room. Smoke began drifting outside.

They knelt on the floor and groped for the third crib. They found it at the far wall of the bedroom, a few feet away from the other cribs. It was almost directly beneath the smoke-spewing wall vent.

Oglesby struggled to slash open the netting with a screwdriver. Then smoke cleared enough for Sealey to see a zipper. He pulled off his gloves, unzipped the netting, reached in, and felt the limp body of Coleson, who had been exposed to smoke and carbon monoxide three to five minutes longer than his brothers. Sealey lifted him out.

Horwat had climbed the ladder and watched Sealey and Oglesby rescue Coleson. “Do you want me to take him out the window?” he yelled.

“No, we’ll take him down the stairs,” Oglesby said. He cleared the way as Sealey followed, holding Coleson’s head up so it would be easier for the youngster to breathe—if he was still breathing.

Sealey emerged from the house and handed Coleson to Resnick, who carried the boy to a Bethesda–Chevy Chase Rescue Squad ambulance. With the other two ambulances gone, Resnick was the only paramedic at the scene. He bagged Coleson for three or four minutes until Curtis Walker and Terryl Haynes, paramedics from Wheaton, arrived. Resnick called to them: “Take over!”

Walker and Haynes got into the back of the ambulance and continued bagging the little boy. Haynes put a stethoscope on Coleson’s chest and could hear faint respirations. They hooked him up to an EKG, which registered a heartbeat. They prepared an IV line so they could get medications into him fast if he went into cardiac arrest. 

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