Three Sanibel firefighters receive Phoenix Awards
March 31, 2010 was a day three members of the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District won’t soon forget.
That afternoon, Capt. Tom Tracy, firefighter/paramedic Rob Doerr and firefighter/EMT Josh Koza helped save the life of a 6-year-old boy from Minnesota. The youngster, Cal Proechel, was involved in a pool accident and had been unconscious when emergency responders arrived at the scene.
"We had been heading down Periwinkle Way on our way to pick up dinner supplies when the call came in," recalled Tracy. "We arrived on-scene just four minutes later."
Their quick response was essential to the three firefighter’s "save" that day. After tending to Proechel’s injuries and turning their patient over to the Lee County EMT’s for transport to a hospital in Fort Myers, Tracy, Doerr and Koza returned to the fire station knowing that their efforts were to the best of their ability.
"We were able to stabilize the patient," recalled Tracy. "We had heard that he had later been transported back to Minnesota for recovery, but we didn’t think we’d hear from him again."
However, through a health-based website — www.CaringBridge.org — which connects patients with their families and friends via frequently updated progress reports, word came back to the Sanibel rescuers that Cal was making tremendous strides on his road to recovery.
"After I heard about his improvement, it was just overwhelming," said Tracy. "Basically, it’s a once-in-a-career-type of feeling."
"On behalf of Cal’s entire family, thank you all so much for your support during this extremely difficult period," reads Cal’s story on CaringBridge. "While we have run the gamut of emotions through this, among the many things we have learned is that Cal (and we, his family) are so very fortunate to have so many important people in our lives. From the bottom of our hearts, we are sincerely thankful."
Hearing about Cal’s progress, the SFRD crew put together a "care package" for the brave fighter, including a genuine firefighter’s bunker jacket — which reads "PROECHEL" along the back — helmet, fleece pullover with the SFRD logo and company patch.
"I added a little note saying that we hope he enjoys the stuff we sent him and to look us up the next time he’s on Sanibel," said Matt Scott, Assistant Chief.
On May 8, Cal’s family sent an e-mail to Cal’s rescuers, which included three photographs of the smiling youngster giving a big thumbs up to his new island pals, sporting each of the items sent to him.
A few days later, Tracy, Doerr and Koza each received a prestigious Phoenix Award, given to members of the SFRD who are responsible for a saved life in the line of duty. Only 24 awards have been handed out over the years, four going to Tracy and three to Doerr. It was Koza’s first Phoenix nod.
"Everything went right on that call — it was perfect," added Tracy, who noted how great it was to receive a few pictures of Cal. "He’s smiling at us now, and that’s very good. That’s the best ending of a story you can get."