ST. PAUL-The announcement came over the intercom of an airplane bound for Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Wednesday morning, July 4: "If there are any doctors on the plane, please identify yourself. We're in need of a doctor."
St. Paul Assistant Fire Chief Mike Gaede said he turned around and saw a passenger a few rows behind him who he "immediately recognized was in bad shape." The man's face was ashen gray, and he was going in and out of consciousness.
A doctor was already by the man's side. She used her knuckles to apply pressure to the man's sternum, which normally wakes a person, but he didn't budge.
"That's what really got my attention," said Gaede, who left his seat, told the doctor that he's a St. Paul firefighter and emergency medical technician, and offered to help. They worked together and gave the man oxygen, an IV and other medical attention until the plane diverted to Detroit and paramedics took him to an emergency room.
For Gaede, Wednesday was a reminder of why he and other firefighters chose a career of helping others, especially as he returned from a somber memorial service. He was flying back from paying his respects to a Long Beach, Calif., firefighter who was fatally shot in the line of duty.
"On the plane, when we were working on the man, it strangely felt like another day at work - I just went into work mode," Gaede said. "After it ended, though, I thought, 'I was on that plane for a reason.'"
A flight attendant told Gaede that the man made it to the hospital and was being cared for there, but Gaede doesn't know what happened to him.
Firefighter who died was a high school friend
Gaede, a St. Paul firefighter for 17 years, grew up in Long Beach, Calif.
When he heard a firefighter was fatally shot June 25 while responding to an explosion at a retirement home, Gaede thought the chances of him knowing the victim would be small - he moved away 25 years ago. But it turned out that Long Beach Fire Capt. David Rosa and Gaede were on the same high school baseball team, though they had not kept in touch after school.
Firefighters have a tradition of supporting other departments when a firefighter dies in the line of duty, and they came from around the country to show their camaraderie at Rosa's memorial service Tuesday.
JetBlue Airways offered to pay for the flights of firefighters attending Rosa's funeral, and Gaede said he was honored to go to represent the St. Paul Fire Department. He took a red-eye flight from Long Beach on Tuesday night, landed in Boston early Wednesday and set out for MSP about 6 a.m.
As Gaede was reading on the plane, he heard the flight attendant's announcement looking for a doctor. All St. Paul firefighters are also EMTs, and Gaede went to assist the doctor who was working on the man in crowded, tight quarters.
The man, in his late 50s to early 60s, looked to be fit and Gaede doesn't know whether he was having a heart attack or what the situation was. He was traveling with his wife and adult sons to Minnesota to attend a family reunion, Gaede said one of his sons told him.
'Would do anything... to help'
Flight attendant staff gave them a medical bag with IV kits, medication and first aid gear. The doctor - whose name Gaede didn't get - stated she does not work in an emergency room. She asked a flight attendant to have the plane's captain call an ER doctor and put the call over the intercom.
But Gaede told her, "I can get an emergency room doctor on the phone in less than a minute." The St. Paul Fire Department works closely with Regions Hospital - they provide medical direction to the fire department - and Gaede called Dr. Bjorn Peterson on his personal cellphone.
Peterson, assistant medical director for Regions Hospital Emergency Medical Services, wasn't working, but he answered Gaede's call.
"I explained the predicament we were in," Gaede said. "I said, 'Doc, this is super unconventional, but I'm at 30,000 feet, and me and a doctor are working a severe medical incident and we need some guidance,' and Dr. Peterson stepped up."
Peterson talked to the doctor on the plane about what medications to administer. After receiving medications, the man "started coming around a little bit," Gaede said, but they knew he needed to get to an emergency room. The flight landed in Detroit just before 8 a.m. local time, where it was met by medical personnel, said Morgan Johnston, JetBlue spokesman.
"While medical diversions are rare, we have the utmost gratitude for any medical professionals on board who may step forward to assist our crewmembers in responding to an incident," Johnston said.
Gaede said he was grateful for the doctor on the plane, the JetBlue crew who stayed calm and got them medical supplies, and Dr. Peterson for quickly providing his expertise.
Interim St. Paul Fire Chief Butch Inks said he's not the least bit surprised that Gaede jumped in to assist.
"That's just who Mike is," Inks said. "He would do anything for anyone to help them."