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Saving lives in so many ways

Unique fire service focus of campaign

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Dennis Gelinas (left) shakes hands with fire paramedic Mark Cortens, who was on the scene along with his captain, Mike Wilcox (second from right), when Gelinas suffered a heart attack in the apartment building where he works. United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest (second from left) helped facilitate a reunion so Gelinas could publicly thank Cortens for helping him.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Dennis Gelinas (left) shakes hands with fire paramedic Mark Cortens, who was on the scene along with his captain, Mike Wilcox (second from right), when Gelinas suffered a heart attack in the apartment building where he works. United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest (second from left) helped facilitate a reunion so Gelinas could publicly thank Cortens for helping him. Photo Store

Jeff Gray is living proof if you are going to have a heart attack, Winnipeg is the best place to have it.

Gray, 56, was driving home from running errands before going to work on Aug. 27, 2010, when he "felt an enormous pain" and passed out.

Gray said the next thing he knew, he was awoken by the honking from a transit bus behind him but, "with typical male denial," he continued driving home.

"I had all the pain," he said Thursday.

"A semi on my chest. When I drove into my driveway, I apparently had another heart attack."

Despite this, Gray went into the house, had a shower, got dressed and went to his living room where he collapsed. His sons called 911.

Two minutes later, "I was awoken to a brigade of happy young men," he said.

'They said my heart stopped for five minutes. I am very thankful Winnipeg has a fire paramedic service'

-- Dennis Gelinas, 66

"Without them, I wouldn't be telling my story."

Those "happy young men" were a crew of fire paramedics.

Dennis Gelinas, 66, said he was in the lobby of his downtown condominium watching firefighters responding to a fire alarm when he had a heart attack.

"They said my heart stopped for five minutes," Gelinas said.

"I am very thankful Winnipeg has a fire paramedic service."

Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, said the city is unique in having 40 fire trucks outfitted with the same gear found on ambulances, with 240 firefighters trained as paramedics.

Forrest said the union wants Winnipeggers to know about the unique service, so it is launching a four- to six-month campaign under the banner Winnipeg Fire Fighters, Your Primary Paramedic Response.

"On every fire truck, we have a person who could work on a person with a heart attack during the first hour of their shift and the next hour they could be saving kids in a fire," he said.

"It is said the best place to have a heart attack is Winnipeg. We've had people from Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and all over the country come here to look at our system. They are amazed at how well our system works. And it is a frugal system -- they are all 100 per cent firefighters.

"Name something else which saves money but has a better service."

Forrest said the campaign will include television commercials, billboards, bus benches and even advertisements on cinema screens before movies.

"It's the biggest public relations campaign in our history," he said.

"We're also doing social media, too, so this will go right across Canada. We're very proud of what we are doing. We're the only city with fire paramedics.

"We can get there in four minutes, on average."

Gray said while he doesn't remember everything about his experience, he still remembers one fire paramedic, who he said was named Andrew, being with him from the house to the hospital and holding his arm for hours.

Gray met fire paramedic Andrew Braun for the first time since his heart attack on Thursday.

"I do thank you for giving me a second shot," Gray told Braun.

"He's my new God. I thank him I can still say that word."

Braun said it's not often people in his line of work get to see the people they help after they get better.

"We are happy you are doing well," he told Gray. "He was a textbook case. We knew what to do. I'm glad he is doing well."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2013 A11

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