BONITA SPRINGS — It’s a firefighter’s job to save lives, but firefighters are rarely called to save the life of one of their own.
That’s what happened Sept. 20 when firefighter-paramedic Juvert Calero collapsed at the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District. He had just finished his daily workout and was on duty at the district’s Station Five.
“It is probably one of the worst calls I’ve had and it is probably one of my best calls,” said Lt. Keith VanGelder, one of the Bonita Springs firefighter-paramedics who helped revive Calero.
“Basically all the training kicks in,” he said. “It happened really quick. Everyone worked together….It all turned out that we were in the right place.”
VanGelder is one of six Bonita firefighters who were honored during a district meeting Monday night with Unit Citation Stars for resuscitating Calero. The other firefighters are Eric Madden, Terry Bonnell, Tony Valentino, Bruce Sheffield and Jeff Rowley.
“Their quick action and quick result saved his life,” District Chief Phil Kinsey said. “They saved the life of a good friend as well as an employee of this district. I’m forever grateful.”
The six firefighters resuscitated Calero, 39, using CPR and defibrillation. By the time a Lee County ambulance arrived on the scene five minutes after Calero collapsed, he was revived and talking.
Calero had emergency surgery at a local hospital and is recovering. He has not returned to work yet but was present as the district honored his co-workers.
“I am so grateful to all my husband’s brothers here,” Calero’s wife, Mary Ann, said during the ceremony. “We are thanking the lord every day for the second chance you have given us.”
Of the six firefighters who were honored Monday, two — VanGelder and Jeff Rowley — have retired since the incident.
Lt. Eric Madden said he was happy to see Calero talking and laughing with his colleagues after the ceremony.
“It’s nice,” he said. “We’re not really into awards. We’re here to support Juvert and his family. We do what we’re trained to do and every once in a while we get lucky.”
District spokeswoman Debbi Redfield said the incident was the first in which a Bonita firefighter or staff member had a heart attack while on duty.
“It’s one of the leading causes of death for on-duty firefighters,” she said. “It scared us, 100 percent. I was at home and I was scared hearing about it, so I can’t imagine what they were feeling while working on one of their own.”