Off-duty Conn. firefighter's fast response saves girlfriend's choking father

Middletown Firefighter Beau Sienkiewicz performed the Heimlich maneuver and back blows before a Hartford HealthCare EMS crew arrived


Share the tips below from the Mayo Clinic to educate your community about how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and assist a choking victim.

Cassandra Day
The Middletown Press

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — A Middletown firefighter is being credited with saving the life of his girlfriend's father, who began choking on a piece of meat while the Portland family was enjoying a Fourth of July meal.

Six-year firefighter Beau Sienkiewicz called the frightening incident a "freak accident."

Someone called 911 while off-duty Firefighter Beau Sienkiewicz started performing the Heimlich maneuver on the choking man.
Someone called 911 while off-duty Firefighter Beau Sienkiewicz started performing the Heimlich maneuver on the choking man.

The family was in their sunroom, enjoying the weather and chatting among themselves, Sienkiewicz said. He saw his girlfriend's father take a bite of steak and then salad, then stand up from the table looking as if he were about to throw up.

"He took a few steps to go out of the sunroom back in the house, and he grabbed for his throat and collapsed to the floor," Sienkiewicz explained.

The man wasn't breathing, said the firefighter, whose first aid training instinctively kicked in as he positioned himself behind the father and began performing abdominal thrusts, known as the Heimlich maneuver.

At that same moment, Sienkiewicz's girlfriend of four years ran inside the house to call 911 "before I could even think to tell her to," he said.

After about two minutes, he began performing back blows. "I wanted to try something extra," so he leaned the father's body forward and began hitting his back, "hoping that something was high enough in his airway that that would assist in moving it."

His efforts were successful.

"I think the steak was stuck, and then the lettuce settled on top of it and it blocked the airway," Sienkiewicz explained. "He started to blink and move his head, and I felt a wave of relief.

"He was completely unconscious, not breathing. I was very grateful when I saw him blink and move his head around, and slowly start to speak a little bit," he added.

There is a very small window of time to open the airway of a person who is choking, Middletown Fire Chief Jay Woron said. "It doesn't take long: After four minutes with no oxygen to the brain, you start to have damage. His quick action saved the man's life."

Sienkiewicz reflected on the moment when he saw the man collapse and his emergency skills took over.

"Inside, I thought, 'oh no,'" he said. "It was instinct and constant training. I had to act and do something to make the situation better."

It wasn't until afterward that Sienkiewicz realized he had saved a loved one's life.

When the Hartford HealthCare ambulance arrived at the hospital, an EMT met the family in the waiting room, knowing they were on the way. "He was very, very helpful and very kind to him, my girlfriend and her mom," Sienkiewicz said.

The technician told the family the victim was now in good hands and doing very well, he said. That's when he learned that the father was able to swallow the rest of the steak as they were driving over the Arrigoni Bridge into Middletown. "He ended up clearing it himself," Sienkiewicz said.

"It was a freak accident that he walked away from," Sienkiewicz added, "which is all we could have asked for."

After four years with his girlfriend, Sienkiewicz said, "I have quite a relationship with her family. You don't think about the moment. You have to do what you know. You can think about the fact that he's pretty much family afterward.

"It was definitely more intense than if I were at work and going on a regular call — the fact that it's a personal relationship," he said.

Meanwhile, his girlfriend's father is on the mend. He has no recollection of what occurred other than the ambulance ride, said Sienkiewicz, who believes he is "shell shocked."

"He's doing very well," Sienkiewicz said, although he's been very tired for the past few days. He returned to work a couple days ago, and is taking it easy. "He thanked me a multitude of times."

The emergency response profession runs in Sienkiewicz's family: His father is a former paramedic at Middlesex Hospital.

Every member of the department is certified as an EMT, Woron said. "He put that training to good use, saving a life. Fortunately, he was in the right place, witnessed it, and was able to immediately give the gentleman the medical intervention he needed."

Both Woron and Sienkiewicz recommend everyone consider getting first aid training.

It's best to be prepared, the fire chief said. "You never know if a family member, (or) if you're out at a restaurant, on the street — that's the kind of training that can save lives," he said.

"You take a practical test and a written test to make sure you're taking something away from the class, and you're confident and competent enough to perform CPR or the Heimlich. God forbid something happens," Sienkiewicz said.

The Mayo Clinic explains how to perform abdominal thrusts on another person

Stand behind the person. Place one foot slightly in front of the other for balance. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly. If a child is choking, kneel down behind the child.

Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person's navel.

Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.

Perform between six and 10 abdominal thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.

To learn about area first aid classes, visit the American Red Cross website at redcross.org.

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(c)2022 The Middletown Press, Conn.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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