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Firefighter commended, saves spouses life

Robert Smith, center, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, receives a Chief Fire Officer’s commendation at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Smith was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

Robert Smith, center, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, receives a Chief Fire Officer’s commendation at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Smith was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

Robert Smith, center, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, poses for a photo along with firefighters and leadership from the 423d CES and 501st Combat Support Wing after receiving a Chief Fire Officer’s commendation medal at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Smith was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

Robert Smith, center, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, poses for a photo along with firefighters and leadership from the 423d CES and 501st Combat Support Wing after receiving a Chief Fire Officer’s commendation medal at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Smith was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

A Chief Fire Officer’s commendation medal rests on a table at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Robert Smith, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

A Chief Fire Officer’s commendation medal rests on a table at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Robert Smith, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

Robert Smith, center, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, receives a coin from Col. Kurt Went, 501st Combat Support Wing commander at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Smith was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

Robert Smith, center, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, receives a coin from Col. Kurt Went, 501st Combat Support Wing commander at RAF Alconbury, Dec. 20, 2019. Smith was recognized for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressure and clarity of mind for actions performed on August 21st. Smith administered CPR to his wife Karen for 17 minutes until paramedics arrived at his home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Eugene Oliver)

RAF ALCONBURY, England --

“I was in shock because I was talking to her just 5 minutes before and I went downstairs to make a cup of tea and came back upstairs and she wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse”

On Aug. 21, 2019, Robert Smith, 423rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, was faced with one of the most challenging situations a husband could encounter, his wife Karen was unconscious and showing no signs of life.

“Once I realized the situation my training kicked in,” said Smith. “We train so often with the fire department on CPR and general medical responses that once I realized she wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse I shouted at my son to call the ambulance and then I moved her to the floor and checked her airway and pulse again and started to perform CPR”

Smith administered CPR continuously for 17 minutes as he waited for Paramedics and an air ambulance to arrive with a trauma doctor where she was transported to a hospital.

“All of the training we do every day throughout our careers is aimed for that very moment when someone’s life is in the balance,” said Trevor Howe, 423rd CES Deputy Fire chief. “The constant training he does day to day all played a role in him remaining calm and administering CPR for 17 minutes straight under the most extreme pressure.” 

It was discovered that Karen had suffered an arterial clot/block in her heart, once discovered doctors inserted a stent, and removed the blockage.

The next day surgeons wanted to wake her from an induced coma, to test and check for what was expected to be severe brain damage due the extended period of death.

But they were astonished to discover that after many tests she showed no signs of brain damage or any long term effects at all. The surgeon praised Bob for the perfect application of CPR which had kept her brain oxygenated thus preventing damage to her brain.

 “It was quite humbling to hear that she was going to fine and there was no brain damage,” said Smith. “I was quite pleased that I was there to help because if it was the next day then I would’ve been here at work when it happened and she would not be here today.”

For his life saving actions, Smith was awarded the Chief Fire Officer’s commendation medal for exemplary lifesaving abilities under extreme pressures and clarity of mind on Dec. 20, 2019.

“The thing that made the award the most gratifying is the fact that Bob is a very experienced fire fighter,” said Howe.  “So any emergency situation like that is not new to him, he’s seen some traumatic things throughout his career being a 30 year plus fire fighter.”

Howe further lamented how Smith’s ability to perform under extreme pressure further cemented him worthy of the commendation.

“The fact that he reacted so well and did such an exemplary job in giving her the CPR,” said Howe. “On top of the fact he was administering it to his wife which adds another degree of pressure, his calmness and sense to perform adequately under those circumstances was well worthy of an award.”

We are pleased to know that Karen has recovered very quickly as is now at home leading a normal life.

For those interested in learning more about CPR and Basic Life Support courses please contact the resuscitation services at your nearest hospital.