Stephanie Harrison and her family are especially thankful these days for the public safety specialists in town. Why? Because they were instrumental in saving the 12-year-old girl's life this spring when she suffered a cardiac arrest while playing laser tag at Laser Quest, located off Endicott Street.
Mark Harrison, the girl's father, thanked his fellow public safety officers for the big save – he just retired this spring from the Salem Fire Department; in fact, May 23 was his last day – the same day Stephanie almost died.
"These [men and women] gave the best retirement gift ever: the gift of life," he said, his words filled with emotion. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
The family appeared before the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night to publicly express their gratitude for the life-saving response by four police officers, two firefighters, six Lyons Ambulance personnel and a family-practice doctor who happened to be at Laser Quest with his own child that afternoon.
The selectmen bestowed commendations upon the 13 individuals as they came up one-by-one to shake the hands of Stephanie and board chairman Michael Powers.
Police Chief Neil Ouellette, reading from the incident report, said on May 23 around 3:18 p.m., Officer John Melto (who was working a traffic detail nearby) was the first responder to the scene. He found Stephanie collapsed on the ground, suffering from cardiac arrest.
Her sister, Danielle, alerted authorities, and a doctor at the scene – Jeffery Semaan – assisted Melto in administering CPR to Stephanie until reinforcements came with an ambulance. Stephanie's care was transferred over to EMTs and she was then taken to Beverly Hospital.
In addition to Melto and Semaan, police officers Richard Barthelmess, Scott Frost and Sgt. Richard Stoney were recognized, along with firefighters Anthony DeLisio and Marc Santorella and Lyons Ambulance staff Erin Cullen, John Stomboly, Ken Long, Mariko Weston, Scott Collorone and Stacy Gillis.
"There are no words that can really come to mind or heart to thank you," Stephanie's mother, Joanne McCarthy, told the assembled heroes on Tuesday. Pausing at times to regain her composure, McCarthy also read from a card, which was given to the group.
The family's written thanks ended with Stephanie's own words: "You all were a wonderful miracle to me. Thank you again."
Ouellette called it a "very successful save," adding that he was glad they could celebrate that fact.
Acting Fire Chief Kevin Farrell, adding his brief remarks, said he was equally glad to be there and that a defibrillator was available. All department cruisers carry a mobile AED device.
"We're all happy for the outcome and we're glad you're here," Selectman Gardner Trask said, directing his sentiments to the public safety staff.
Semaans also wished to inform the public that training procedures and requirements for certification in First Aid are now being streamlined in order to make the process less onerous. He noted in a letter to the selectmen that one of the reasons bystanders often refrain from jumping in to help is a lack of First Aid training.