Merced firefighter's quick action saved life

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comNovember 26, 2012 

— Off-duty firefighter Kevin Buccola walked out of his gym on the morning of Nov. 13 to find a crowd of people in the parking lot gathered around an unconscious man.

Over the next five minutes, Buccola took control of the situation. Finding that the man had no pulse and wasn't breathing, he performed CPR and instructed the gym's staff to retrieve their automated external defibrillator.

"He had probably about four minutes of oxygen left in his blood system," Buccola said. "So I wanted to get some compressions going to get the blood circulating so he wouldn't get brain damage."

A bystander called 911, and within moments a firetruck and then an ambulance arrived at the scene. The patient was shocked twice with a defibrillator and regained his pulse.

Without Buccola's leadership that Tuesday morning, longtime Merced resident Richard Kirkman easily could have died from the heart attack.

"I'm very grateful to him," said the 74-year-old retired high school art teacher. "I can't help feeling that he was God's agent in this thing. He was there on the scene, and had proper training and knew what do."

At Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, Kirkman received heart bypass surgery and since has been discharged. He said he expects to be up and walking within a month.

"He sounded really good," said Buccola, who called Kirkman at the hospital. "It was a touching moment when you can actually talk to somebody that you did CPR on. I told him to come on down and visit us."

Urges all to learn CPR

Buccola, 42, has been a firefighter for more than 20 years. He started his career in Orange County, and has been in Merced for the past six years.

Without immediate attention, an individual's chances of fully recovering from cardiac arrest significantly decline, said Buccola, who encourages everyone to become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"If he were to drop somewhere where nobody would have seen him, it doesn't take long before brain not getting oxygen, heart's shutting down," he said. "That's why they say early CPR is a big factor within that first couple minutes."

Fewer than 8 percent of people who experience cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive, according to the American Heart Association. Of those, roughly 383,000 people, or 1 in 3, get CPR from a bystander.

Buccola will be honored with a meritorious service award at the annual Merced City Firefighters promotional ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at City Hall.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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