The firefighters were just finishing a routine call when one of them collapsed. "This isn't happening. Not Bobby,'' thought a colleague.
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 27, 2001
CLEARWATER -- The fire Wednesday morning was small. A piece of fabric left on a hot piece of metal went aflame and filled the place with smoke. All firefighters had to do was open the doors and windows, hook up some fans and air out the print shop.
Business as usual. Units were beginning to clear at 2:37 a.m., a half-hour after the initial call.
Then over the radio: "Firefighter down."
A group of firefighters dragged out one of their own from the building. He had collapsed in front of them. They stripped off his gear, nearly 60 pounds worth. An air pack, bunker gear, face mask, helmet.
They felt near his mouth. No breath. His neck. No pulse.
On a routine call, firefighter Robert Householder, a 28-year department veteran, was dead of cardiac arrest.
But of anywhere he could have suffered a heart attack, this was the best place -- in the middle of a group of trained rescuers who care for their own like family.
Nineteen firefighters, rescuers and paramedics stood in a circle around the fallen Householder, who lay in a printing business driveway at 408 Saturn Ave. S. Several of them worked frantically on their friend and co-worker.
Firefighter-paramedic William "Spike" Fry, who plays tennis every week with Householder, hooked up an automated external defibrillator to his friend's chest. The machine read Householder's rhythm, then recommended a shock.
Fry pushed the button.
Thoughts in Fry's head: "This isn't happening. Not Bobby." He pushed them aside.
Householder was shocked.
Within seconds, the machine showed some electrical activity, a good sign. Then a pulse, an excellent sign.
And then Householder woke up.
He was confused at first and asked questions about how he had gotten on the ground. His fellow firefighters told him he had collapsed.
He was loaded into an ambulance. Fry kissed him.
"He was hugging us. I kissed him," Fry said Wednesday afternoon. "I asked him to give me a kiss; and he said no, he would give me a hug. And I kissed him, anyway. I was just so happy."
Householder was taken to Morton Plant Hospital, where he remained Wednesday night. Fellow firefighters said he was doing fine and resting comfortably. So many firefighters were going to see him that hospital staff asked them to slow it down so Householder, 54, could rest.
Fire officials said Householder was saved because of a team effort. While Fry worked the defibrillator, others readied IVs or checked his airway.
"We know where our jobs are," said Lt. Larry Browett, a 22-year veteran who worked in the same station as Householder for 10 years and was on the scene Wednesday. "And that's the reason we're a really tight group.
Fry said although the emotions of every firefighter on the scene were probably sky-high, they put their emotion aside and got to work.
"You have to throw your emotions out the window at that point and try to help," he said. "With anybody, you do the best you can do. But you're like family in a fire house. It's like one of your own."
Assistant Chief Charlie Flowers said the episode is especially moving in light of the loss of firefighters on Sept. 11 in New York City. Both incidents show the dedication, sacrifice and vigor that firefighters show for their job, which is simply helping others.
"It's real special. This story has a happy ending," Flowers said. "Thank God."