Firefighter down: Dean Wright's heart-stopping story
On New Year’s Eve, Dean Wright was awoken to a fire call that would end like no other.
Just after 7.30am, Dean left his wife and five sons asleep to head to Hawkwell Fire Station – the site that’s formed the opening scene to countless incidents in his 16 years as an on-call firefighter.
The crew arrived at the site in Lower Road, Hockley within minutes, having already noticed the plume of smoke from some distance away and immediately realising that this would require multiple fire crews’ assistance.
Dean took on the responsibilities of laying out hose – a physically challenging job in the cold winter temperatures – which required him to tackle his way through undergrowth to use a neighbouring pond for water supply.
“I remember getting the hoses set up and heading back to the fire engine,” Dean said. “I needed a bit of a breather. There were a couple of moments where I felt my chest hurt a little bit and I had shortness of breath, but I thought it was related to a chest infection I’d had a few weeks before.”
Dean was in good spirits, determined to stay upbeat in the face of a dangerous incident.
“I saw our breathing apparatus crew sitting down and I joked with them: “Well done, lads – your medals are in the post”- that sort of thing.
“I carried on as normal and was setting up some monitors (used to direct the flow of water onto the fire) when I felt my eyes going in and out of focus.
“It was a surreal feeling, but the first thing I thought was: ‘don’t faint in front of the guys!’”
Four crucial minutes
What happened in the next four minutes, during which Dean’s heart stopped beating after he went into cardiac arrest, would go on to be described as a ‘miracle’ by those involved.
By pure chance, the East of England Ambulance Service’s Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) had been called to the incident and were stood metres away.
Chris Wilkinson, the team supervisor, said: “We had been called as initially it was believed that there were people within the building that was on fire. It quickly became apparent that there weren’t, but we always attend as a precaution.
“Seconds after I’d been speaking to one of the firefighters leading the incident, I heard shouts to my left: “firefighter down.”
“I immediately saw Dean collapsed on his side, with several of his colleagues trying to help him."
“I’ve been in the Ambulance Service for nearly 15 years and I’ve never been involved in anything like that. It was completely silent; everyone just realised the severity of it. I looked across and saw Dean’s colleagues looking concerned, too – there was so much pressure.”
Dean had been moved by the HART team around 30 metres away from where he had collapsed, to allow the paramedics to restart his breathing away from the smoke and hazards posed by the blaze.
“Our team had given him every chance and worked really well. It was fortunate in terms of where Dean was found, but from that point it really couldn’t have been executed any better,” Chris added.
Following use of a defibrillator and CPR, Dean began breathing again and was accompanied by road to Basildon Hospital by the HART team and Essex and Herts Air Ambulance staff, who had also arrived within minutes.
The road to recovery
Dean was left counting his blessings after being released from hospital last month and has now begun his recovery. Doctors and cardiologists at Basildon Hospital have given positive feedback as he aims to resume duties at Hawkwell, as well as his wholetime responsibilities on White Watch at Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Borehamwood Fire Station.
“I was incredibly lucky to have so many people in the right place at the right time, able to help me,” Dean said.
“The guys here at Hawkwell have been fantastic – so supportive. I still come down here once a week to be with them and chill out. It’s always been that kind of place; they’re my friends, we’re not just colleagues.
“I must say over the last couple of months I’ve often thought ‘why me?’ Doctors seem to think it was hereditary but also diet-related, as my cholesterol was high. Needless to say I’m changing my diet and not eating quite so many takeaways!
“I want to say a big thank you to the HART team. I’ll never, ever take them for granted at incidents we go to with them. It’s very difficult to quantify or put into words what they did: but they were there at the right time and did everything to bring me back.”
Dean got his chance to meet and greet the HART team, as well as the Air Ambulance crew who accompanied him, this week at an emotional event at Hawkwell Fire Station.