During its annual award ceremony last week, the Nikiski Fire Department honored several people from both inside and outside the department for their roles in saving the life of a Wildwood correctional officer last year.
A number of people — from correctional officers to 911 dispatchers to helicopter pilots — were recognized with the Life Saver Award at the event, which took place Feb. 28 at the Nikiski Senior Center.
The awardees all played a part in saving the life of Amy Fisher, a correctional officer at Wildwood Correctional Facility. Fisher suffered from heart failure as she was starting her shift at the prison on Oct. 1, 2019 and had to be flown to Central Peninsula Hospital for treatment.
At the awards ceremony, Fisher said the last thing she remembered from that day was clocking in for her evening shift, and the next thing she remembered was being in the hospital with her granddaughter asking if she knew what had happened.
Afterward, Fisher asked coworkers who were on-scene to recount their efforts to revive her until the Nikiski Fire Department could arrive.
“The control room officer called for a security check over at transitional where I was posted,” Fisher said. “I didn’t answer the radio transmission, and that’s when, obviously, I died.”
Fisher later learned that she suffered from ventricular tachycardia — also known as V-tach — a rare condition that causes the heart to beat abnormally fast. Fisher said she has no idea what caused the condition and had never dealt with heart problems prior to this. On that day, however, Fisher’s heart rate accelerated to nearly 300 beats per minute before stopping completely.
When Fisher didn’t answer the radio call, correctional officer Darrick Futrel went to check on her and found her on the ground, without a pulse. Futrel was unable to attend the award ceremony. His mother, Laurie Wozniak, accepted the Life Saver Award in his honor and recalled what he had told her when he came home that day.
“He came home and was like, ‘You’re not going to believe what happened! Amy died!’”
Wozniak said that her son immediately began performing CPR on Fisher after discovering her, and he was able to briefly revive her until another officer, Tony Smith, joined him with an automated external defibrillator (AED).
Smith said that he was responding to a medical emergency but didn’t realize it was for an officer until he got there and saw Futrel attempting to revive Fisher. As Futrel continued the chest compressions, Smith placed the defibrillator pads on Fisher and gave her a shock.
Nothing happened, so nurse Carol Asp took over the compressions and another shock was administered. Officer Tony Besse then replaced Asp, and Fisher was shocked a third time. Finally, after another round of chest compressions from officer Warren Isham and a fourth shock, the AED registered a pulse from Fisher.
“That was the same time that Nikiski Fire Department showed up, and they pretty much took over the scene at that point,” Smith said.
Smith said that correctional officers are trained in basic life support techniques like CPR, and conveniently the officers had recently been recertified in CPR when Fisher’s heart stopped. In his seven years in the field, Smith said he had never dealt with an officer in need of medical attention, let alone a situation as serious as Fisher’s.
“I’m also a volunteer with the Nikiski Fire Department so I understand what the protocol is, and that is that you do not stop CPR,” Smith said. We don’t pronounce anybody gone, and we’re certainly not going to stop that easy on a fellow officer.”
Smith guessed that the officers were attempting to revive Fisher for about 10 minutes before the Nikiski Fire Department arrived.
“When they walk into the room, even though you’re keeping a calm head about you and you know you’re doing everything you can, when the real professionals step in you can take a big sigh of relief,” Smith said. “The end result was perfect, right? I mean, she’s still with us today. It could have been catastrophic without that training.”
While Fisher’s coworkers were able to revive her in time for the paramedics to arrive, more complications would arise on her way to the hospital. Dominic Kuntz was the LifeMed pilot who received the call to pick her up. He said that while they were on their way to Anchorage, Fisher’s heart stopped again. In order for her to receive treatment in time, Kuntz had to turn around mid-flight and take her to Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna.
Harrison Deveer, Senior EMS Captain for the department, said during the awards ceremony that performing CPR as soon as possible can be the difference between life and death in many cases, including Fisher’s.
“To me, everyone that was involved in that call is a hero,” Deveer said.
In order to make the community more prepared for this type of situation, the department’s Fire Prevention Specialists Jason Tauriainen and TJ Cox will be focusing this year conducting hands-on CPR training around Nikiski and have already begun the training in the local schools.
Life Saver Award Recipients
Laura Osborn, Alaska State Troopers dispatch
Ryan Tunks, Alaska State Troopers dispatch
Darrick Futrel, Wildwood correctional officer
Warren Isham, Wildwood correctional officer
Tony Besse, Wildwood correctional officer
Carol Asp, Wildwood nurse
Tony Smith, Wildwood correctional officer
Dominic Kuntz, LifeMed pilot
Amahra Kalush, LifeMed personnel
Blaine Myers, LifeMed personnel
JT Harris, Nikiski Fire Department senior captain
TJ Cox, firefighter/lead paramedic
Stephen Robertson, Nikiski Fire Department captain
Kassidy Stock, firefighter/paramedic
Tim Tolar, firefighter
Brandon Edwards, firefighter
Vladislav Glushkov, firefighter