“Eddie received a Meritorious Service Certificate and a Lifesaving Pin that he is to wear on his Class B uniform,” said Assistant Fire Chief Hal Wolverton. “We’ve never done this before. If Eddie hadn’t recognized the severity of what was going on, that patient probably wouldn’t have made it.”
On Sept. 9, Swanson and his partner, firefighter/EMT Ken Foss, responded to a call of a man in his mid-60s experiencing chest pain. They were the only aid unit available at the time; the paramedics were on another call, their shift Battalion Chief Bill Sawaya was at a fire investigation, and the nearest backup paramedics were at least 30 minutes away in Gig Harbor.
“They got there and put the heart monitor on the patient,” Wolverton said. Though Swanson has no training in rhythm interpretation or cardiology, he recognized the patient was having a serious and time-sensitive cardiac event. “Typically what happens is, our aid unit will wait for the paramedic unit to show up and take over patient care,” Wolverton said. “Eddie realized that there wasn’t time for that.”
Swanson and Foss quickly loaded the patient and arranged to meet the Gig Harbor medic unit halfway up the peninsula and transfer the patient to them for transport to St. Anthony Hospital.
“St. Anthony is the closest cath lab we can take these patients to,” Sawaya said. “They do a STEMI procedure, where they stick a wire catheter up a femoral artery into the heart to break up a clot.” ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) is a very serious type of heart attack where one of the heart's major arteries is blocked.
“Under 90 minutes is considered good,” he said. “That’s from the time of event, meaning someone first has pain, to the time that they’re in the cath lab.”
“But, as things usually go,” Wolverton said, “St. Anthony’s already had somebody in their cath lab, so they had to divert into Tacoma, and that’s where time really comes into play.”
“The saying is, ‘time is tissue,’” Sawaya said. “The more time that passes during the occlusion (blockage) of oxygenated blood flow to the tissue, that’s the tissue dying. So every minute counts.”
Swanson and Foss transferred the patient at the Home fire station to the Gig Harbor medic unit, which proceeded to Tacoma General Hospital, cutting 30 minutes or more from the trip.
“The patient’s right coronary artery was 100 percent occluded on arrival, and they were able to clear the clot and return flow to that part of the heart,” Sawaya said.
“For us to go from all the way down there (south of Home), all the way to (Tacoma and) the time flow was returned to the heart was 107 minutes,” he said. “That’s incredible for the distance, for all the things we had to do. If it weren’t for Eddie’s quick recognition that this was a life-threatening situation, we probably would have had a bad outcome.”
It was after following up with the patient, now recovering at home, that personnel from St. Anthony brought the matter to the department’s attention.
“They thought it was a fairly significant event,” Wolverton said. “An EMT is not supposed to know these things, so they thought it was a pretty remarkable thing.”
“There’s been meritorious awards in the past, but giving them a symbol that they can wear proudly on their uniform daily is new for us,” Sawaya said. “People can ask him, ‘Hey what’s that for?’ and he has to tell them the story.”
Swanson is a lifelong KP resident who started as a volunteer firefighter in 2006 and was hired by the department in 2014. In the meantime, he worked as an emergency room technician where, Wolverton said, “he must’ve picked up some things.”