Retired firefighter saves friend's life on Calif. racquetball court

He knew there was a defibrillator at the club and sprinted to get it

By Janis Mara
The San Jose Mercury News

BURLINGAME, Calif. — Jerry Kilroy was playing racquetball at Burlingame's Prime Time Athletic Club, something the retired firefighter has been doing three times a week for about 25 years, when he noticed something was horribly amiss.

He turned around and, through a glass wall, saw his friend Doug Chin sprawled unconscious on the floor of a nearby court.

"Everyone was terrified. It was really scary," recalled Ray Jungwirth, the club's general manager, who was at the club that afternoon in mid-March. "Doug was flat on his back, not moving or breathing."

Chin, an 18-year member of the gym and Belmont resident, had collapsed during a racquetball game about 4 p.m.

"All of a sudden, there was a hush and everything just stopped. I looked and there was Doug. He was down," said Kilroy, a 69-year-old San Carlos resident who was a San Francisco firefighter for 29 years. "I did a quick survey — no breath, no pulse."

Chin's heart was fibrillating, beating rapidly and wildly, unable to properly pump blood through his body. Under such circumstances, a defibrillator can restore the person's heartbeat to normal by sending an electric shock through the heart.

Kilroy knew there was a defibrillator at the club. He sprinted to the wall where it hung and hooked it up to Chin's chest, then began performing CPR while the defibrillator took measurements. So-called "smart" defibrillators like the one at Prime Time have two oval patches that are placed on a patient's chest. A robotic voice gives instructions while the machine determines whether a shock is necessary.

"The defibrillator said, 'We are going to shock him. Stand clear.' We stood clear and the shock was administered," Kilroy said. "He started breathing."

"It's a miracle that everything fell into place. Thank God we have those (defibrillators) available," said Jungwirth, who called Kilroy a "true hero."

Medics from American Medical Response and firefighters from the Millbrae Fire Department arrived within minutes, summoned by a 911 call.

"Jerry's actions were the reason for the change in the patient's condition," said Lanty Molloy, the fire captain who responded. "He is a hero."

Chin, who is now on the mend and will be back in the gym in seven weeks, was taken to a hospital after medics and firefighters administered oxygen and otherwise tended to him. Described as a very private person by Kilroy, Chin did not respond to messages asking for comment.

Kilroy shrugged off the descriptions of his behavior as heroic.

"It's something firefighters do," he said. "They save people. I'd do it for you — I'd do it for anybody."

Copyright 2011 San Jose Mercury News
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