By Gordon Williams
When Red Cross volunteer Tracy Sheehy first learned cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor WA, she considered it a skill that might prove of use one day. In fact, Tracy’s knowledge of CPR saved a life last Thanksgiving Day when she came to the rescue of a young man who was unconscious and unresponsive.
By the time first responders arrived on the scene, the man was alert and breathing again.
Here’s how the episode played out, in Tracy’s own words. They come from the message she sent to Dan Wirth, executive director of the Red Cross South Puget Sound and Olympics Chapter, based in Tacoma and part of the Red Cross Northwest Region. It is Tracy’s home chapter, and she manages the chapter’s Disaster Action Teams (DAT) — the units that deliver Red Cross services to disaster victims.
“Wanted to share with you,” Tracy messaged Wirth, “that at 1am this morning, my Pulse Point application went off, alerting me to CPR needed a block away from my house. I responded and found a female trying to perform CPR on her boyfriend in the parking lot of a store.
“Fire Department communications was on the phone, attempting to guide her in doing CPR. I found an unresponsive male with no pulse and no respiration. I initiated CPR and continued until Fire arrived about four minutes later. They found that he had a pulse and when he was transported to the hospital he was breathing and moving about.
“When I ran out the door, I grabbed the first coat available, which happened to be my Red Cross jacket. When I arrived on scene, the girl saw my jacket and told the fire department dispatcher that the Red Cross was there.
“It was a great feeling to have such a positive outcome.”
To make the story complete, this is far from the first time that Tracy has raced to a disaster scene and delivered a positive outcome.
She has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2008; her first deployment was to a flood. Since then, she has deployed to disasters at least two dozen times. Her most recent deployment was as Mass Care lead to the Whatcom County floods in late November. Mass Care is, as the name implies, the Red Cross function that provides shelter, food and support to disaster victims.
A story that ran in this blog in September of 2020 found Tracy pulled back from working for the Red Cross at wildfires in California and rushed to work at wildfires that were burning East of Tacoma. When we talked back then, there were 170 victims being carried for by the Red Cross. As often as she had deployed in the past, those Western Washington fires were something brand new for Tracy. Because of Covid-19, Red Cross clients were being housed and fed in hotels, rather than in the churches and schools which are the usual sites for shelters.
Those 2020 fires nearly took a very personal turn for Tracy, since they came perilously close to her home in Bonney Lake WA. “Luckily, they got the fire under control,” she said at the time.
Nor was volunteering with the Red Cross Tracy’s first exposure to disasters. Being there when help is needed has been a lifelong passion for her. Offered a chance to learn first aid and CPR in high school, she jumped at the chance. “I was always interested in medicine and first aid,” she says.
She had hoped to volunteer for training as a Navy hospital corpsman, but a history of open-heart surgery as a child kept her out of the service. “That didn’t happen, so I went into the fire service,” she says. She joined the Fife WA fire department, driving both a medical unit and an engine company. Among other things, her years as a firefighter gave her many opportunities to practice her lifesaving skills. “As a firefighter, I used CPR many times,” she says.
She got to practice her skills as a volunteer disaster responder further during the 18 years she spent working for Boeing. “I was the CPR lead at Boeing,” she says.
Tracy is grateful she had the necessary skills to save a life. Not surprisingly, she thinks everyone — Red Cross volunteers or not — should know first aid and CPR. Should the time come when you are faced with a life-or-death situation you will know what to do.
The Red Cross offers dozens of classes in first aid and CPR, some virtual and some face-to-face. To see the varied list and descriptions of courses, go to redcross.org/take-a-class.