by Susan Mikula Campbell
It was a special night at the Bergholz firehall Tuesday as First Assistant Chief Mark Stevens received the 100 Club of Buffalo Hero Award for his involvement in the rescue of a Wheatfield bicyclist struck by a car last June.
What made it extra special for Stevens was the attendance of the man whose life was saved, fellow Wheatfield resident Curtis Senf.
Although Stevens has spoken to Senf on the phone, this was the first time they have met in person since the accident.
"There was a lot of hugs and thank yous. It was a great experience to see him walking with a help of a cane," Stevens said. "He broke his neck at C1-C2 and to be walking is a miracle. He had a few surgeries and months of acute rehab and is continuing outpatient therapy."
The 100 Club of Buffalo Inc., established in 1957, is an independent, nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to provide service to the members of local law enforcement, fire and emergency medical service agencies and their families. Its annual Hero Award honors heroes throughout Western New York.
Stevens was unable to attend the club's awards dinner in March at which he, nurse practitioner Denise Piechowski and mail carrier Barry Eleey, all who assisted in Senf's rescue, were among those honored.
Frank E. Broderick, executive director of the 100 Club of Buffalo, decided to bring Steven's award to a fire department meeting night and present it in front of his peers. He described the scene as "emotional."
"Tears were flowing," Broderick said as Senf's wife thanked both Stevens and the fire company. "She realizes that her husband would have died if not for the three people that intervened."
On that early June 5 morning, Stevens had already been out on two emergency calls and gone to the gym, and since further sleep wasn't possible, decided to go in to work early. He was driving on Niagara Falls Boulevard toward Amherst where he works as a systems analyst for M&T Bank, when he noticed traffic backed up near the 3900 block and a couple of cars on the side of the road. However, he hadn't heard any tones yet for the Adams Volunteer Fire Co. that covers that area. Then he saw a man down on the side of the road, and the emergency tones for Adams went off.
Senf had been bicycling along the side of the road. He and a van making a left hand turn into his path collided.
Stevens, who carries a fully stocked EMS bag in his car, with the assistance of the nurse and mail carrier, was able to set up CPR for Senf, who was turning blue. When Adams volunteers and Twin City Ambulance arrived, Stevens continued to assist.
"To see Curtis gasp for air was a great sign," said Stevens, 33, who has been a volunteer firefighter since he graduated from Niagara-Wheatfield High School in 1998 and is a third generation volunteer firefighter. "This is probably the best save I ever had in my life."
Ironically, Stevens had met Senf briefly about a month before the accident. "I thought he looked a little bit familiar."
Stevens said the saving of Senf's life was one of those being in the right place at the right time moments. He also emphasizes that the save was "definitely a team effort, even though the three of us got singled out."
Senf's survival is a great example why everyone should learn CPR, Stevens said. "Early CPR saves lives. It's a great tool to know," he said, pointing out that trained EMTs might not always be just around the corner.
Most CPR classes include training in the use of an automated external defibrillator and the Heimlich maneuver, both also easy-to-learn, useful skills. A Niagara County Sheriff's deputy brought an AED to the Senf accident, but it registered that no shock was advised, Stevens said. The Heimlich assists choking victims.
Stevens had one more piece of advice.
"After talking to Curtis, I thought we need a good reminder that the public needs to watch out for bicyclists, and to remind them that we all share the road, and to practice safety," Stevens said.