When the call came in, all the Greenwood firefighters knew was that someone was pulled out of an apartment complex retention pond.
But just before the fire truck pulled into Bexley Village, more information came in: the person was a 2-year-old boy.
Last month, all five of the emergency workers at the scene April 4 were honored with the Indiana Emergency Medical Services for Children Pediatric Hero Award for their fast response time and the efforts to revive the toddler, who was unresponsive.
On most emergency runs, Joe Halfaker, a 12-year veteran of the Greenwood Fire Department, takes a brief moment to compose himself and work through what he may see and the emotions he may experience. Halfaker calls it a “factory reset,” where he focuses on the task at hand and relies on his training to work through an emergency, Halfaker said.
But this was an emergency Halfaker had never responded to, Halfaker said.
When the firetruck arrived, Halfaker gave his crew of firefighters their assignments, then he ran down the embankment to grab the child who had been pulled from the pond by maintenance worker Jerry Helms, who had noticed what looked like a person in the retention pond and called 911.
Halfaker quickly whisked the child up the banks and onto a flat surface to perform CPR, Halfaker said.
“I jumped out of the truck and ran as fast as I could to the shoreline,” Halfaker said. “He didn’t have a pulse. He was lifeless. I grabbed him and ran to a safe area out of the public eye and continued CPR.”
The 2-year-old, who was staying with his father, had learned how to unlock the door of the apartment off Smith Valley Road and wandered away while his father slept. The father had recently added a second lock after realizing his son could unlock the door. But that day, another relative who was staying in the apartment forgot to set the new lock, and both adults were asleep when the boy got out of the apartment, according to a news release from the Greenwood Police Department.
No criminal charges were filed against the toddler’s father, Greenwood Assistant Police Chief Matt Fillenwarth said.
The little boy walked to a retention pond in the complex just yards away from his father’s apartment and by the time he was pulled out, he was unresponsive.
On the fire truck that day was 19-year-old firefighter Mike Mitchell, who had been working for the department for only about 10 months. Mitchell was a cadet for two years before becoming a part-time firefighter, but he had never experienced a run like this, Mitchell said.
Mitchell had his water rescue suit on, prepared to go into the water after a person drowning. He and Halfaker worked together on the toddler, performing CPR continuously until the ambulance arrived.
“Mike Mitchell worked his tail off that day,” Halfaker said. “All our guys, the medic crew too, they did an exceptional job.”
Halfaker and Mitchell were able to get about a gallon of water out of the toddler’s lungs. When the ambulance arrived, the two jumped in and helped medics, who suctioned more water out of the toddler on the way to the hospital, they said.
Mitchell continued to do chest compressions on the boy all the way to the hospital, but despite the firefighters’ efforts at the scene and the medics’ work on the ambulance, the toddler’s color was not changing and he didn’t have a pulse, they said.
But just as the ambulance arrived at Franciscan St. Francis Health, the toddler regained a pulse, they said.
The boy was still in serious condition, and Mitchell and Halfaker left the hospital expecting to hear sad news, they said.
The unfortunate part of being a firefighter is that nine times out of 10, the outcome won’t be one you strive for, Halfaker said.
When the firefighters returned to the station that day, it was quiet, Mitchell said. Being with the rest of his crew, talking and going back through the situation with his battalion chief helped balance emotions and keep everyone in a good place mentally, Mitchell said.
And then, the crew received encouraging news that the toddler had been moved to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
Later that month, Halfaker learned the child was moved to the rehabilitation unit at Riley Hospital and was showing encouraging neurological signs, such as the ability to follow a finger or pen with his eyes, Halfaker said.
After learning the boy was recovering, the firefighters were nominated for the award, Halfaker said. Anytime firefighters can be recognized for efforts like saving a 2-year-old with his whole life ahead of him, it’s rewarding, Halfaker said.
“People call on the worst day of their lives and we have to be there for them,” Mitchell said. “I know (he survived) because of the crew we had that day. It makes it all worth it. It makes me love this job that much more.”
Here are the Greenwood emergency workers from Station 91 who were honored with the Indiana Emergency Medical Services for Children Pediatric Hero Award.
- Drew Baldwin, firefighter/EMT
- Joe Halfaker, firefighter/EMT
- Michael Mitchell, firefighter, EMT
- Jonathan Myers, paramedic
- Christian Van Hoozer, EMT