By Emma Woodham, Staff Writer for Island Eye News
In situations where normal people might panic or not know how to respond, first responders are trained to remain calm and act quickly in the face of uncertainty. Three Sullivan’s Island first responders were recently commended by the Town Council for their exemplary actions, one of which was saving the life of a fellow firefighter. In September, Sullivan’s Island Interim Police Chief Chris Griffin was driving along I-526, headed to a friend’s house, when he came upon a car wreck that had just happened. While others stopped nearby, unsure of what they should do, Chief Griffin went closer. “When I came up, people were slowing down, so I realized somebody needed help when I saw a car in the middle of 526,” Griffin said. While he was radioing the accident in, he realized that the car was filled with what appeared to be smoke, but he wasn’t sure if it was smoke or simply the powdery substance associated with airbags deploying. Chief Griffin tried to open the car doors, only to discover that they were locked so using his police issue baton, he shattered the glass in the windows of the car. Chief Griffin and Charleston County Police Officer, Matthew Tulla who was on his way to work, both helped pull the driver out of the car to safety. Chief Griffin was unsure what caused the driver of the vehicle to wreck, nor did he know the seriousness of the man’s injuries. Once the driver was out, it didn’t take long for the front end of the vehicle to become engulfed in flames.
What surprised Chief Griffin was that people were simply standing around when he pulled up. In the moment, he said, he didn’t really think about the potential danger. “I didn’t think about the car being on fire. I just thought about getting the guy out of there,” Griffin said Chief Griffin was commended for his actions by Sullivan’s Island Town Council at its most recent meeting on Nov. 21, and he and the Charleston police officer who helped pull the driver from the car were also commended by the City of Charleston at a ceremony in September. On a separate occasion, two firefighters on Sullivan’s Island saved the life of one of their coworkers, using their training and acting quickly when Captain William “Curt” Gibbons suffered from an unexpected cardiac emergency. Lt. Don Harbaugh and Firefighter Adam Ivan were on duty with Captain Gibbons on the day of the incident. Lt. Harbaugh said that his coworker had complained of some chest discomfort earlier in the day, but didn’t think it was anything related to his heart.
“He called me aside earlier and said he was having some discomfort, but it didn’t seem like the normal cardiac symptoms. It seemed more like a pulled muscle,” Harbaugh said. After he returned from lunch, Captain Gibbons said he was going to stretch in the bunk room. A short time later, Lt. Harbaugh and Firefighter Ivan heard a crash in the bunkroom. They found their coworker on the floor, unconscious and unresponsive, and immediately used their radio to call for help.
They utilized their training and performed CPR on him and hooked him up to the Automatic External Defibrillator or AED. “We hooked the AED up, and the AED told us to shock him, so we did. We started back doing CPR, and it told us to shock him again,” Lt. Harbaugh said. EMS arrived quickly and took over. By that time, Captain Gibbons was conscious, and EMS loaded him into the ambulance to transport him to MUSC.
Because both EMTs needed to be in the back with Captain Curt, Lt. Harbaugh actually drove the ambulance, something he says isn’t unusual. Since that day, Captain Gibbons has had three stints put in and undergone cardiac therapy. He was recently cleared for duty and has been back on duty for several shifts now.
He is grateful to Harbaugh and Ivan for saving his life, but says that he doesn’t remember anything about the incident. “I don’t remember any of it. Everything is good, and the cardiologist said I could go back to work, so I did,” Gibbons said.
Both Lt. Harbaugh and Firefighter Ivan were commended for their remarkable, life-saving actions at the Nov. 21 Town Council meeting. Mayor Pat O’Neil says he hopes that the residents of Sullivan’s Island appreciate what fine examples of first responders these men are. “We are so fortunate to have such exceptional professionals guarding our safety and welfare, here so close to home. Their acts have once again demonstrated that there are many critical situations where seconds literally are a life-or-death matter. I am comforted knowing they are right here on the island,” Mayor O’Neil said.