Pelham Fire Lt. Ray Cashman Jr. hugs a grateful Nancy Boisvert, as her husband, Robert, looks on. Robert Boisvert was one of four residents revived by the town’s heart defibrillators. Those lifesaving moments were celebrated during a ceremony at Fire Department headquarters., VALLEY DISPATCH/MICHAEL PIGEON
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By CHRISTINE PHELAN, Valley Dispatch Staff

PELHAM — Oct. 27 began like most days in the bustling nurses’ station at Pelham High, packed with youngsters traipsing through for their meds, stomach-ache remedies and aspirin. In fact, the last thing nurse Barbara Campbell remembers just before collapsing in an unconscious heap on the floor was taking a student’s blood pressure in her usual calm, no-nonsense style.

“Here, I’m the one who gives CPR classes, never thinking I’d be a victim,” the 53 year-old joked.

Campbell was one of three “saves” feted last week, along with the firefighters and paramedics who literally brought them back to life, at a gathering inside the town’s little fire station. Pelham firefighters — who responded to more than 1,200 calls in 2004 alone — have had the unusual distinction of saving four residents with defibrillators over the past year, three of whom are still alive.

No small feat for a 12,000-resident town and a tiny but dedicated team of 13 full-time firefighter/paramedics and more than 20 on-call EMTs.

“The odds of saving somebody are often low,” said firefighter Rich Hanegan. “But it’s unheard of to get several people back within the same year.”

“It’s highly unusual,” said firefighter intermediate Dan Farwell. “But saving someone is an excellent feeling.”

The defibrillator machines — which occupy the town’s two ambulances, firetruck and the hallways in several town buildings — cost anywhere from $5,000 to more than $15,000 each and come with either preset or manual controls. Though the department’s had them going on 15 years, defibrillators remain the gold standard for situations in which seconds can literally mean the difference between life and death.

When Lt. Ray Cashman discovered Bob Boisvert after his heart attack last January, the 57 year-old was “bright blue, even bluer than my shirt.” It had already been eight minutes since Boisvert’s wife, Nancy, had phoned 911 after watching her husband collapse while shoveling snow. Time was of the essence.

Paramedics worked on Boisvert from 10 to 15 minutes and eventually got a pulse.

“You do everything you can, and some you get back, some you don’t,” Cashman said. “With Bob, I remember feeling like I was on cloud nine (when his heart started again). That’s why we do what we do, moments like that. That’s what everyone does this job for.”

“He’s a miracle,” said Nancy. “I really thought, even on the way to the hospital, that he was gone. He would’ve been within one to two minutes, but they came right in and started. We have a lot to be thankful for. My husband has a life.”

Mike LaCharite went into cardiac arrest on Memorial Day, an attack that might have ended his life were it not for the defibrillator that brought his quickening pulse back to normal. The 62 year-old, who’s also beaten a stroke and leukemia, says he has “a lot of respect for the guys in the Police and Fire department.”

“I’m grateful,” LaCharite said. “It was a fast response. Without them, I probably would have been dead. It just means that God’s got something planned for me.”

Pelham High nurse Campbell’s recovery has a lot to do with the speedy response of students, colleagues and the town’s quick-thinking paramedics. Within minutes of her collapse, a student ran to get help. The gym teacher began CPR. Paramedics arrived several minutes later and shocked Campbell’s heart — three times, in fact — back to beating.

From there, Campbell spent a week in the hospital, continues cardiac rehabilitation, and plans to be back at Pelham High part time this week, full time come January.

“But this could’ve been a life-changing experience for me, with permanent brain damage,” Campbell said. “I’m very thankful. Knowing firsthand what I know now, the different these people made affected my family and friends. They’ve got a great EMT system here. It’s really top notch.”

Got a story idea? Christine Phelan’s e-mail address is cphelan@thevalleydispatch.com.