While working at EMS 14 at Fire Station 78, I was backing into quarters and noticed a woman approaching the station. Even from afar I could tell she was sad and distraught. But she suddenly turned and began to walk away. I asked her if there was something I could help her with. She paused and then slowly walked over to me. Her eyes were full of tears as she told me she had been driving around the neighborhood for hours, terrified to stop by the station. Then she said, “I saw you drive up and gathered the courage to ask if I could speak to the firefighters that worked on my son last year.”
Her name was Susan and her only son Justin was a 16 year old student who attended a local high school. Justin was on the school swim team and was in the water practicing when suddenly and without warning he went into cardiac arrest. She told me how Justin loved to swim and the thought that he had died in a pool was more than she could bear. She had not been able to let the pain of her son’s death go because of the unknown of how and why he died.
The members of Fire Station 78 were all out of quarters so I invited Susan in where she told me the story of the life and death of her angel. Susan explained how the autopsy revealed that Justin had an undiagnosed heart condition that contributed to his untimely death. She cried as she showed me videos of his life on her iPad. Justin was full of life – he loved to sing and swim. I saw videos of him telling his mom and dad how much he loved them. Susan also showed me a video of when Justin was 10 years old and he was singing the song “I love you tomorrow” and what a talented singer he was.
The crew of Fire Station 78 returned to quarters. One of the members had been on the call and was able to share the events of the tragic incident. Susan was listening and wanted to know if her son had drowned as a result of his heart condition. The firefighter told her that her son had gone into sudden cardiac arrest prior to going under water because there was no water in his lungs or stomach. Justin did not die from the pool but rather died while in the pool doing what he loved.
Susan was so relieved to hear the story and asked to see the ambulance that her son was taken to the hospital in. We took her to the rescue and opened the rear doors. She began to cry and gently kissed her fingers and laid her hand on the gurney as to say goodbye to her son. There was not a dry eye on the apparatus floor.
Susan hugged us all and thanked us for spending time with her. As I walked her out to her car she allowed me to pray with her. I received an e-mail later that day from Susan saying how grateful she was that we were able to help her release some of the pain. She said that she would never forget what the members did to try to save her son.
By Roger Fowble, LAFD Chaplain