10 minutes, two lives

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 8:15pm

The fate of one family could be very different today if not for the extraordinary efforts made by members of the Harbors and the Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Departments.

In about 10 minutes, not a moment was lost, and two lives were saved.

It was Sunday, Aug. 18, and Harbors Assistant Kate McConville received a call from Police dispatch at 13:05.

“There was a boat in distress coming in with two unresponsive individuals with carbon monoxide poisoning,” said McConville. “Myself, Nick [Phillips], Gary [Ryan], and Shannon [McKeon] were in the office. I told them to get underway.”

McConville said that Bob DiSanto, who runs the Safe/Sea tow boat in the harbor, heard the distress call over the radio. Safe/Sea is a private company providing marine assistance to the Harbors Department. McConville said DiSanto is known as the “Cardinal” on the Great Salt Pond. “He truly is part of the Harbors family,” she said.

Assistant Harbormaster Gary Ryan then took over the narrative.

“We met Bob in the middle of the channel,” said Ryan. “He has a tow boat a little more powerful then ours. Shannon took the helm of the Harbors boat and Nick and I hopped on the Safe/Sea boat. We went out and met them in the Harbor. Nick tied up the boat that was in distress to the Safe/Sea.”

Ryan continued: “I jumped on the stern of the boat and saw two people in the cabin who were unresponsive. I pulled patient number one out of the cabin and could not find a pulse. I went back to the cabin and pulled out patient number two, also unresponsive. When I dragged this patient out, they had a pulse, a good radial pulse. Patient number two’s respiration was rapid and shallow.” When Ryan checked back in with patient number one he found a pulse. Patient one also started breathing, but it was also rapid and shallow.

“I shut down the cabin when I got the patients out,” Ryan said. “I felt (the carbon monoxide) in my eyes, in my mouth.” He said, the “key was to get them out of the bad environment” — the cabin filled with the carbon monoxide. 

“We were prepared to do rescue breathing,” said Ryan, “but we didn’t have to do that. In a few more minutes, we would have.” Ryan has 30 years’ experience on the Rescue Squad. Nick Phillips has three years’ experience with the Fire Department. He had not been in this type of situation before, but he and Ryan spoke on the way out to the harbor to meet the boat in distress. “He was willing to do anything,” said Ryan of Phillips. Phillips later spoke to the grandson who was piloting the distressed boat into the harbor.

“At that particular point we were towed in,” said Ryan, all the while monitoring the patients. “No patient needed medical attention. Both were breathing, both had heart rates. When we got to the dock we immediately got them oxygen, we didn’t even have to ask for the bottle, and off the boat and into the ambulance.”

Then Ryan got to what he felt was the key to the success of this rescue.

“I have to impress on you that everybody did exactly what they had to do to save people’s lives. Everyone did what they had to do. Because of that, these people are still alive.”

“That all took less than 10 minutes,” said McConville. “To the tie-up to the dock — less than 10 minutes.” McConville received the initial call at 13:05 and the patients were on the ambulance by 13:15.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my staff,” said Harbormaster Steve Land, who was not on scene during the rescue. “We train all summer long. This went perfectly.” He pointed to Ryan when he said, “Having someone with 30 years’ experience” — and then he pointed to Phillips — “and someone with three years’ experience all worked perfectly.”

Land said that what was also important was that the Harbors Department staff not on the call kept the rest of the marine traffic running smoothly so that no one was even aware of what was happening.

“Everything worked as it was supposed to,” said Ryan.

Fire Chief Mike Ernst expressed immense pride in the way the Fire Department staff assisted in the rescue efforts.

“Those guys did an incredible job. The whole team, fire, rescue, the police, and the Medical Center,” said Ernst. “The radio communications, the response time, the number of Fire and Rescue personnel on scene, as well as Bob from Safe/Sea.”

Ernst emphasized the importance of the continuous training that members of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department undergo, a key element in having a situation like this turn out the way it did.

Ernst had particular praise for the efforts of Fire and Rescue Department Nick Phillips and Gary Ryan.

“Nick is only 16 years old,” he said. “He did incredibly well.”

After the story was told, and the continued realization that these efforts had saved the lives of two people, the members of the Harbors Department staff who had taken part in the rescue stood quietly on the small porch of their office at the Block Island Boat Basin for a few moments.

And then, in a voice hushed by emotion, McConville said, “It’s pretty overwhelming.”