Firefighters are known for saving lives during the call of duty, but Petaluma's two Firefighters of the Year, Dan Farren and Jude Prokop, were each recognized for saving a life outside their professional responsibilities.
"They didn't have the advantages of their crew or their equipment, it was just them," said Larry Anderson, chief of the Petaluma Fire Department.
Last April, Farren and his wife were taking in a leisurely Saturday watching their son play baseball in Rohnert Park. One of their son's teammates, Matthew, 8, went up to the plate and took a line drive directly to the center of his chest. The Petaluma boy attempted to run to first base, but collapsed midway, which sent Farren flying into action.
"It was just instinct," Farren said of running toward the field. When he saw Matthew, the medic with 25 years experience knew something was very wrong.
"The lights were on, but nobody was home," he said. "I watched him take his last breath… So I started to breath for him."
The impact had caused Matthew's heart to "jiggle," Farren said, which interrupted his cardiac rhythm, causing the heart to stop. Farren immediately began CPR, which pumped oxygen through Matthew's blood, preventing brain damage during the six minutes it took the ambulance to arrive at the ball field. Matthew spent a week at Children's Hospital in Oakland, but made a full recovery.
"You can look into the eyes of a kid like that and know he's here because of something you did," Farren said of the experience. "It could have been my son, it could have been anyone's kid."
Farren and Prokop were honored at the Petaluma Community Awards of Excellence on March 27, alongside a slew of other citizens who gave back to the community in meaningful ways last year.
Prokop had his own off duty life saving experience on July 30, when he was working out at a local gym with a close friend, who was then 69. When his friend suddenly collapsed, Prokop jumped into action, alerting others to call 911 while he began CPR. When fire crews arrived, it took five attempts to get the man's heart going with the defibrillator, after which he was taken to the hospital. A few weeks after the incident, the man celebrated his 70th birthday.
Anderson said it's important to recognize the good work of firefighters through achievements such as the Community Awards of Excellence.
"It acknowledges the extra effort and the way they go above and beyond the call of duty," he said, "not just at work, but in their everyday lives."
(Contact Emily Charrier at Emily.charrier@ar guscourier.com)