First responders honored for saving man’s life

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times
Scott Condon

A perfect combination of training and timing helped Basalt first responders save a man from the grip of death after a recent heart incident.

Eight members of the Basalt Fire Department and two Basalt Police Officers, as well as three emergency dispatchers and an Eagle County deputy sheriff, were recognized for actions that helped save the life of Greg Shugars on Oct. 30.

Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson said that during his 30-year career as a firefighter and in law enforcement he rarely has seen a chain of events that worked so well and resulted in a victim in so dire of condition emerging in such good condition. “If the chain’s broken, the person doesn’t survive,” Thompson said.

Thompson handed out certificates of recognition to the responders Tuesday night at the council meeting as well as Life Saver pins they will wear on their uniforms. Shugars hugged each of the responders when they received their certificates during a moving ceremony at Town Hall.

“I got home and I told my wife, ‘I think we saved somebody’s life.’”
Scott Garcia, Basalt Fire Department

“The chain of survival worked,” Thompson said. “We’re here to celebrate (Greg) being alive.”

According to Thompson’s comments at the ceremony and an interview prior the event, here is the sequence of events:

Shugar’s heart “quit on him” at about 6:18 p.m. His wife, Gayle, called 911. Three emergency dispatchers got involved in collecting information from Gayle and relaying it to first responders.

The fortunate part was Basalt Police Officer Josh Bennett was patrolling close to Hillcrest Drive and was en route to the scene in one minute. Scott Garcia, an 11-year volunteer and fire officer with Basalt Fire Department was heading downvalley on Two Rivers Road after parent-teacher conferences at Basalt Elementary School when he heard the call for an unresponsive male. He, too, was en route in one minute. Garcia was in the house less than four minutes after the call came in, almost simultaneously with Bennett.

They found Shugars on the floor with no vital signs. Garcia started CPR while another police officer, Phil Martin, arrived and started efforts to get Shugars to breathe. The men also hooked Shugars up to an automated external defibrillator (AED), a laptop-sized device that diagnoses cardiac arrhythmias. If the condition is detected in a patient, the device alerts the technicians and advises then to apply a shock, which is designed to stop the arrhythmia and allow the heart to re-establish a regular rhythm.

Bennett carried an AED in his patrol car and brought the portable device into the house with him. They had Shugars hooked to the AED in six minutes after the call and applied the shock just 29 seconds later, according to the fire department’s log of the incident.

Paramedics arrived on the scene less than 6½ minutes after the call came in and took a variety of additional actions to stabilize Shugars. CPR continued and Shugar’s breathing and blood flow were restored. He was in an ambulance headed to a hospital 21 minutes after the call.

It was a true team effort, Garcia and Thompson said. Having first responders so close by was a fortunate first link in the chain, Thompson said. The training of first responders from the fire and police departments was critical.

“It was a great save,” Garcia said. “It’s one of those events that when you walk out of there, you say ‘I can’t believe that happened.’ It was so fast.

“I got home and I told my wife, ‘I think we saved somebody’s life,’” he said.

Thompson said the first critical step in the chain, in this case, was Gayle Shugar’s immediate call to 911. “Gayle, you saved your husband’s life,” he told her at the ceremony.

Thompson said another key was the accessibility of the AEDs. There are 18 placed in strategic places in Basalt and the midvalley, ranging from Basalt Town Hall and the Eagle County government building to the Roaring Fork Club and in the cars of on-call officers with the fire department and the Basalt Police Department patrol cars.

Basalt Fire Department applies for grants for the devices and makes the decision on placement. The Aspen Medical Foundation formerly helped with matching funds for the grants, a role now handled by The devices are designed so that layman can operate them.

Following are the people that were recognized Tuesday for helping save Shugar’s life. From Basalt Fire Department: Brian Benton, Christine Benton, Pete Bradshaw, Scott Garcia, David Herrera, Karl Oliver, Isaac Portz and Robert Sardinsky.

Law enforcement officials Josh Bennett and Phil Martin from Basalt Police Department and Todd Sauer from Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

From Pitkin County Communication Center: Ginny Boltman, Ritz Martinez and Thomas Wright.