‘He wouldn’t be here now’
March 22 started out like any other day for fire Capt. Donald Roberson.
His team at the Cokesbury Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a brush fire off Vincent Hoyle Road where the Vance County Fire Department was already at work.
Once Roberson was done fighting the fire, he went to look at the Vance County Fire Department’s new truck.
At that point, he recalls suddenly feeling dizzy and light-headed.
He turned to his fellow fire fighter, Allen West, and tried to relay his condition, but it was too late.
Roberson had collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.
Unlike a heart attack, cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. When this happens, the heart unexpectedly stops beating, and blood no longer flows to the brain and other vital organs.
Cardiac arrest causes death in 95 percent of people who experience it, according to the National Institutes of Heath.
Cokesbury Fire Chief Chris Wright said there was no time for second thoughts or panic in that instant.
“Everybody jumped into action and was working together as a team,” he said.
Within a matter of minutes, the 64-year-old volunteer firefighter was revived.
“The firemen from Cokesbury Volunteer Fire Department and from Vance County immediately assessed the situation and found out he was in cardiac arrest,” Wright said. “I was able to defibrillate him and use CPR to bring him back to life.”
Roberson was transported to Maria Parham Medical Center and then to Duke Medical Center.
He said doctors determined the cardiac arrest was caused by two blockages in his left anterior descending artery, which supplies blood to the front of the left side of the heart. Since being treated, Roberson has reported a clean bill of health.
He said the near death experience showed him the value of equipment, like an automated external defibrillator.
“We only have it on one truck for Cokesbury Volunteer Fire Department, but our goal is to put one in all of them,” he said.
The defibrillator is a portable device that checks heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.
By a remarkable coincidence, Roberson collapsed next to the fire marshal’s truck that Vance County had recently bought and outfitted with the life-saving equipment.
It also happened to be the first time that particular truck was on scene.
“It is proven and I have personally witnessed that early CPR and defibrillation, if done correctly, will save lives,” Wright said. “We all train for events and calls of this nature, but I don’t think we are ever prepared emotionally or mentally. I never would have thought I would ever witness a fellow firefighter collapse and have to be resuscitated, and I certainly never thought that it would be one of my very own firemen.”
Connie Roberson, Donald’s wife, said it is critical to have the device on hand when cardiac arrest occurs.
“I don’t think people are aware of how valuable a defibrillator is at the moment you need it,” she said. “If it is not there when you need it, you can’t bring it in. It will be too late. It has got to be on the scene.”
She said people have asked her if she would continue to let her husband continue to volunteer for the fire department.
“Well, the fire department didn’t have anything to do with it,” she said. “It was going to happen, and if he hadn’t been where he was, he wouldn’t be here now.”
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