Ferry workers and first responders save lives at ferry dock

“It’s teamwork like this that pulls together to protect Vashon Island,” said Fire Chief Matt Vinci.

Teamwork, training and deep compassion saved lives in two recent incidents when ferry workers and Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) first responders sprang into action to respond to urgent medical emergencies at the north end dock.

The first incident took place on Aug. 31, when a member of the public alerted ferry terminal employees Sue Cook and David Herman that a person was in the water near the passenger-only dock.

As terminal supervisor Cameron Harwell called 911, terminal worker Kimm Shride ran to calm and coach the person in the water, reassuring them that help was on the way.

According to a blog posted by Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Justin Fujioka, terminal workers threw a life ring and then coaxed the person toward a ladder to the dock. Though the person in the water was not able to navigate the ladder, Shride kept the person engaged with exhortations to not give up.

As VIFR first responders, including members of the district’s water rescue team, arrived on the scene, the Washington State ferry Issaquah arrived at the dock and a rescue boat was launched, said Fujioka.

The crew was then able to successfully rescue the person from the water and bring them ashore to the Vashon terminal, where VIFR responders took charge to immediately treat and then safely transport them to a mainland hospital.

The second life-saving effort took place only two days later, on Sept. 2, after a ferry rider at the dock suffered a major cardiac event.

Again, terminal staff members took charge, with Jen Hartle, Lindsey Morris, Kimm Shride and Ian Fisher initiating CPR and twice using an automated external defibrillator.

VIFR’s emergency personnel soon arrived on the scene to take over the life-saving effort, and then transported the person to Harborview Medical Center where they underwent emergency heart surgery.

“We got word that the individual is on their way to recovery,” said Fujioka, of WSDOT. “Doctors say that our employees’ speedy initiation of CPR probably saved the person’s life and limited any permanent damage to their heart. The person’s family has expressed their extreme gratitude to our Vashon terminal staff.”

Vashon Fire Chief Matt Vinci also praised the rescue effort, detailing how at the scene, he had seen VIFR’s crews work seamlessly with ferry terminal staff.

“It’s teamwork like this that pulls together to protect Vashon Island,” he said. “The system worked that day, with bystander CPR and medics who got there and did an amazing job.”

Vinci named VIFR members involved in the effort as Josh Munger, Brad John, Brad McMullen, Jim Westcott, Jeff Cohen and Rick Brown.

Fujioka said that starting this year, ferry terminal hires have begun to receive training in the use of the automatic external defibrillator (AED), to add to their training in first aid and CPR. All deck employees have received that training as a requirement of the Coast Guard.

“We are so proud and thankful for our terminal employees and vessel crews for stepping up when needed most,” Fujioka said.

For one of the terminal employees, who The Beachcomber agreed not to identify by name or gender, the life-saving efforts were moments to remember in a long career — both for the urgent intensity of the efforts and the emotional toll that came later, as what had happened repeatedly replayed in their mind.

This ferry worker also said that the hardest part of the experience came as the day continued after the incidents.

Because boats had been commandeered in both cases to get the patients to the hospital as quickly as possible, ferry traffic was backed up that day.

This led to the ferry worker — who had the same day taken part in exhausting, life-saving work — being repeatedly confronted by ferry riders who, unaware of what had just happened, angrily demanded to know why the boats were late.

“That broke my spirit,” the worker said.

See page 6, Letters to the Editor, for a personal response to this story.