News & Media

CFA bystanders in heart attack save

  • (L-R): Dave Reynolds, Darren Clohesy and Trevor Baldock

A social basketball game at the St Arnaud basketball stadium turned deadly serious when one of the players collapsed with a suspected heart attack. Bystanders jumped into action; a number of them were CFA members.

St Arnaud Captain Trevor Baldock had been playing squash with Slaty Creek Fire Brigade’s Dave Reynolds and both saw the woman fall to the ground.

“A few of her basketball mates started doing CPR straight away and we joined in,” said Trevor. “She wasn’t responsive and there was no pulse. Darren Clohesy, the first lieutenant at St Arnaud, was on the phone to Triple 0 getting instructions. We were doing about 100 chest compressions a minute and struggling to get air in.”

The St Arnaud ambulance was already en route to Bendigo with another patient, so paramedics were dispatched from Avoca, Donald, Horsham and Charlton.

Dave Reynolds has been first-aid qualified for more than thirty years going back to primary school, but this was the first time his skills had been called upon.

“I was maintaining the airway and putting in respiratory breaths,” said Dave. “That basically means two breaths, 30 compressions then another two breaths. It sounds terrible but it was almost like working on a [resuscitation] doll. You just block out everything around you and go into a zone – you just do what you’ve learned.

“There were probably about eight or nine people around [the patient] doing things – they were clearing the kids out of the stadium, getting ready to direct the ambulance or comforting other people.

“People did what they could to the best of their ability.”

Stuart Mill Fire Brigade member Naomi Medlyn was part of the basketball game that evening and the woman who dropped to the floor was her aunt. While CPR was being performed, Naomi was thinking about defibrillators, also known as AEDs (automated external defibrillators).

“There are three in town,” she said. “I got people on their phones calling around to figure out how we could get to one. I said, ‘I need one now’ and we sent people here, there and everywhere. People were calling the footy club and I knew there was one at the netball club. Darren had the key and Chris Amos grabbed it.”

CPR was performed for a very long 30 minutes with two shocks administered some three minutes apart once the defibrillator was delivered. The crew felt her pulse for the first time in 20 minutes after the second shock and saw the colour flood back into her face.

“When you put the AED in place it analyses the body and looks for the heart rhythm,” said Dave. “After the second shock the device told us ‘No shock required’. We heard the sirens after that and it was a relief but we’d kept her going and the defib had already done its work.”

A mobile intensive care ambulance (MICA) paramedic from Horsham placed the woman into an induced coma. An air ambulance landed beside the stadium and transported her to The Alfred where she was attached to their heart/lung bypass machine. She wasn’t yet out of danger … but several weeks later she was discharged from hospital with no noticeable after effects.

Dave Reynolds was mentally and emotionally drained for at least two weeks afterwards. He was lifted by the full force of what the group achieved when he visited the patient a few months later with Darren and Trevor.

“We’d all known her before the incident and she was just the same,” he marvelled. “Her attitude was the same. There’d been no loss of movement. All that and yet she hadn’t changed.

“The response was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. We have our naysayers who moan about the community but to see people all pull together and pitch in – it was almost as if we’d all trained together. If only those negative people had been there to see it.”

Nick Thresher, the Group Manager of the Ambulance Victoria Wimmera District, calls it an “overwhelmingly remarkable recovery.

“Clearly the quick thinking and actions by those involved in the resuscitation efforts significantly contributed to her recovery,” he said.

“This emphasises the importance of learning and being prepared to perform CPR and having timely access to an AED. This was a team effort by all concerned that demonstrated the chain of survival concepts. Without the efforts of the rescuers, the first link of the chain would have broken and there may not have been such a positive outcome for the patient.
“Congratulations to all those who worked so hard to give this patient a second chance at life.”

The chain of survival is a six step process that can help save the lives of people suffering sudden cardiac arrest.

The six steps are:
1. recognising cardiac arrest,
2. early access to emergency care (calling Triple 0),
3. early CPR,
4. early defibrillation,
5. early advanced care (paramedics)
6. definitive care (hospital).

“It was a horrible situation,” said Naomi, “but events worked in [the patient’s] favour. People around her had first aid training; the CPR and defibrillator kept her going; we were lucky that the MICA paramedic arrived.

St Arnaud brigade has a defibrillator on their fire truck. A St John’s Ambulance member visited the brigade on handover of the device and taught them how to use it by working a heart attack scenario.

“We used the same technique that night at the stadium,” said Trevor.

“We were totally whacked – it’s the emotion of it all. [The patient’s] husband, Mum and Dad and son and daughter were all there around us but we managed to stay calm on the night.”

Trevor did first aid training some years ago and is now planning to do a refresher. Naomi is also first aid trained and was instrumental in getting a defibrillator for the community of Stuart Mill even before this incident at the basketball stadium.

“Some of us young ones really pushed for it,” she said. “Stuart Mill is 20 minutes from St Arnaud so we really needed one of our own and now it’s housed in a place where the community can reach it anytime.”

The other significant thing Naomi learned from the incident, however, was that the Stuart Mill device was not registered. Triple 0 can only point rescuers to the location of registered AEDs.

She urges any community or brigade with an AED to register it online through or phone 1800 733 574.

Last Updated: 03 January 2014