Rescue of firefighter who suffered heart attack at Big Meadows Fire highlights emergency planning

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. - It was early Father's Day morning when a 51-year-old firefighter suffered a heart attack while hiking with his crew to the fire line at the Big Meadows Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fire crew companions of Luther E. Larkin Sr. quickly started CPR and fire-line paramedics arrived in minutes with an automated external defibrillator (AED) that was critical to restarting Larkin's heart, said park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson.

Members of Larkin's crew -- the Horseshoe Meadow Type I Interagency Hotshots based in California -- carried him to the nearest helicopter landing area just as the requested medevac helicopter arrived on scene. Larkin was airlifted to a cardiac care hospital in Denver.

A photograph of Larkin's teammates rushing him in a stretcher captures the concern etched in their faces.

The swift chain of events that saved Larkin's life weren't a lucky coincidence. They were all carefully orchestrated emergency protocols enacted after the death of a firefighter years earlier, Patterson said.

In 2008, 18-year-old firefighter Andrew "Andy" Palmer was struck by a falling tree while fighting the Iron Complex Fire in northern California.  He died during a medevac flight while en route to a local hospital.

His death spurred new emergency medical response requirements to quickly aid firefighters working in dangerous wildfire zones.

So, early in response to the Big Meadows Fire, Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team A, in coordination with Rocky Mountain National Park officials, began extensive preparation for any emergency response, Patterson said.

That's why there was a nearby paramedic team with the AED that was critical to reviving Larken.

Prompt ordering of the emergency medical helicopter by the park's dispatch center and placing it in aerial standby, also played a key role in the successful response to the life-or-death emergency, Patterson said.