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Fla. responders honored for saving man
By Lance Shearer
NAPLES, Fla. — The accident was called in as a Signal 7 — a fatality — and by all rights, it should have been.
But fast action and teamwork by Collier County emergency responders kept John Mowery alive, long enough to get him to a medevac helicopter, then to Lee Memorial Hospital, and eventually to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, to begin a long, grueling program of rehabilitation.
On Thursday, at the North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District's Veterans' Park station, some of the rescue professionals who gave Mowery another chance at life were recognized with Life Saving Awards, and Mowery was there to see it.
The 21-year-old motorcyclist, going north on Airport-Pulling Road, struck a car that pulled out in front of him on Nov. 18. As it happened, Collier County EMT Lt. paramedic Paul Passaretti, at Calistoga Bakery Café, heard the crash and was able to respond immediately.
"I heard the bang, and I thought, 'That's close.' I walked out, and I could see the motorcycle on the ground, I could see John lying on his stomach," Passaretti said.
Typically, first responders have a minute or two to prepare themselves when approaching an accident site. But not this time.
"Usually, you have a little time to process. You hear 'motorcycle vs. car,' and you think, 'This is what I might expect.' It's pretty intense, when you're by yourself, and there's blood everywhere," he said. Passaretti's training and experience kicked in.
"The first thing I did was call for resources. Next step, I went over to John. This is a triage situation. I opened his airway, there was no response, so I went on to the next victim. That's our training."
In just minutes, Passaretti's call brought North Naples Fire's Deputy Chief Mike Swanson, who at first believed Mowery's injuries were fatal.
"Then I adjusted his head for an airway, and he took a breath. I realized he was alive," said Swanson. "It was very intense. There was a lot going on, and it was very fast moving."
At that point, he said, the first responders were still outnumbered by the victims, with the two occupants of the car that struck Mowery also needing assistance.
Soon, help poured in - additional EMTs and paramedics from NNFD, led by Lt. Regan Sytsma, who took command of the incident, plus road deputies from the Collier County Sheriff's Office, and the flight paramedics on the helicopter.
"John wouldn't be here today without all those people, plus the ones in the ER," said Swanson. "The system worked."
In the commission room at the NNFD station on Thursday, the scene was orderly and decorous, with the firefighters wearing crisp white shirts, black ties and slacks, and their radio mics adorning their chests almost like corsages, along with the brightly polished brass badges, nameplates and insignias.
About 100 people filled the room, including many friends, family and supporters of Mowery, eager to add their praise for the emergency personnel whose quick response and expertise saved his life.
After calling up the team from the department who worked the incident, North Naples Fire Chief Orly Stolts announced, to tumultuous applause, "We are proud today to introduce to you, John Mowery."
Mowery, in a wheelchair pushed by his mother Kelly Mowery, shook hands with his rescuers. Still undergoing rehab, he has trouble making himself understood, and bears many scars, but he is determined to make a full recovery, and last month walked a little for the first time since his accident.
In addition to Swanson, Sytsma, Inspector Patrick Browne, Engineer Robert Loewel and Firefighter Justin Gibson, the five firefighters receiving Life Saving Awards for helping keep Mowery alive, nine other firefighters received Life Saving Awards for three separate incidents.
"Some of these folks have numerous Life Saving Awards," Stolts said. He credited Gibson with coming up with a creative tourniquet, using the webbing strap firefighters use to self-rescue, and thereby controlling Mowery's bleeding.
"It's hard to get firefighters to talk about themselves," said Swanson. "If I didn't order them to be here, they might not show today."
Swanson, when pressed, said he has seven, and receiving one for Mowery makes eight.
Paramedic Passaretti has earned 11 Phoenix Awards, for saving lives thought to be lost, since he began as an EMT almost 18 years ago. He credited not himself, but the Medcon program that puts vehicles with life support systems out on the county's roads, with saving Mowery's life.
Kelly Mowery called the incident "one miracle after the other."
"Praise God for these people," she said. "You don't really appreciate it until you need them, but they do an amazing job every day."
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