Paying it forward

After a near-death experience last summer, Wilton’s Brian McDermott experienced an extreme change. A firefighter saving his life inspired him to join the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, into which he was inducted in April.
McDermott has a full-time job running operations for Tradition Energy, a Stamford-based energy consultant company, but volunteerism is a big part of his identity. He has spent the past few years working with CERT, the Community Emergency Response Team.
CERT assists the police and fire departments when personnel are low at events like parades and fairs or at emergencies like road closures and extended power outages. Last July, McDermott was in town center working with CERT at the Wilton Chamber of Commerce’s street fair. He could not know of the nearly fatal incident that would befall him.
“We put signs up for road closures and detours,” McDermott said of CERT’s activities that day. “I was taking down a road closure sign, which had been bound with plastic ties. I had to cut the ties with a knife, but while I was cutting the knife slipped into my radial artery.”
The radial artery is the main artery of the forearm. It is commonly used by clinicians to assess heart rate and cardiac rhythm.
McDermott said he didn’t fully process what had happened right away. “It didn’t even feel like I got cut,” he recalled in a conversation with The Bulletin on Sunday.
“I felt the knife hit my wrist, but I just thought that it dropped to the ground. I bent down to pick it up and I saw a pool of blood. I kind of threw my hands up and then it started spurting.”
Fortunately for him, medical help was close at hand. “Luckily, there was already a fire truck and an ambulance on the site,” he said. “I’m just thankful they were nearby. From the EMS department to town center it’s about four minutes, so that could’ve been disastrous.”
Due to the state of shock he was in, McDermott struggled to recall some of the fine details immediately after his wrist was cut.
“I don’t remember falling down, I just remember everything getting really bright,” he said. “Next thing I knew, I was on the ground next to the fire engine with an oxygen tank.”
He also said that, besides focusing on his breathing, he only had one thought in his mind. “I wasn’t really thinking of anything other than my family. My wife and kids were at the event about an hour before. I wondered ‘Where are they?’ ‘How am I going to see them?’ and ‘How will I get in touch with them?’”
The bright spot of the whole incident, though, was the life-saving act of firefighter Mike Blatchley. As soon as he saw McDermott collapse he ran over and covered his wound to stanch the bleeding. He also accompanied him the entire time.
“Mike Blatchley stayed by my side. He never let go of my wrist once,” said McDermott.
Blatchley was recognized at a Board of Selectmen meeting in August for his heroic action. Even though he and his family were present to show their immense gratitude, McDermott said, “I don’t know how I could say thank you. It’s only two words and I don’t think that’s adequate compared to what he did for me.”
During a private conversation, he said Blatchley asked him a question that truly resonated with him, “How about you become an EMT?” McDermott would answer the call.
In September, he registered for EMT classes and finished in January. From there, it took him a few months to schedule exams and attend the prerequisite three meetings, but he was finally inducted to the corps in April.
His wife was inspired to take the classes with him, and is now a licensed EMT as well. She has not joined a service yet, though, he said.
“We actually joke about it a little. I’m a little accident prone. We say she’s got to be an EMT so she can take care of me,” McDermott said with a smile.
He provided insight as to why he felt compelled to join the corps. “If I could just make even one person feel how I felt with him [Blatchley], the feeling of comfort in a time of crisis, that would be enough.”
McDermott has found a way to incorporate this philosophy into his EMT work. “I take that with me on every call I go on. I try to talk with patients to make them comfortable and remember the experience not as a negative, but as a positive.”
One of the other volunteers at the WVAC, Nancy Capelle, had a similar cause for joining. Despite being healthy and having finished a 5K run, Capelle had a heart attack at age 40. Having her life saved by the emergency medical personnel encouraged her to get involved.
Capelle is also the founder of Cardiac Companion LLC, through which she conducts private CPR instruction and certification for children, adults and healthcare professionals and leads cardiac education workshops.
McDermott quoted something she wrote to him in an email, “One never truly knows the course that life will take, as it depends on what happens to you along the way.”
“It’s so true,” he said. “Before this, I had no interest in being an EMT. I just never even thought about it.” He pointed to his and Capelle’s stories as to examples of “paying it forward” or repaying the people who saved their lives.
“I work 50 hours a week at my regular job and I have two kids at home. For me, spare time is a commodity,” he said. “This makes me feel good about myself, giving back to the service that helped me.”
When asked about what his future plans were, McDermott responded, “Not too much different from what I’m doing now. Right now this is the path I’m on. I’ve pretty much established what I want to do with my life.”
Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., McDermott has been a member of the Wilton community for 11 years. In about five years, he said, “I’d love to see myself still volunteering at WVAC.”