Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

by Audrey Fraizer

The Corralejo family was catching up with friends from out of state over dinner at a local restaurant when fate challenged Bernie Corralejo’s visual application of Emergency Medical Dispatch.

Bernie, an EMD and senior ED-Q at El Paso Fire Department (EPFD), Texas, had scarcely taken a bite from his sandwich while a diner across the restaurant was having the greatest difficulty even thinking about her next bite.

“Someone working there called out asking if anyone knew CPR or the Heimlich method,” said Bernie’s wife Elizabeth Corralejo. “Bernie immediately got up from the table to help.”

The diner Bernie went to aid was apparently in distress; she was standing up from her chair and holding her throat in the universal “help me, I’m choking” sign. Bernie momentarily lapsed into Key Questions— checking her ability to respond—and without her answer forthcoming took his place behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and grasped with one hand his other hand balled into a fist.

“I helped the lady,” Bernie said. “I used the same instruction that I give over the phone and by the third thrust, the food was out. She could breathe.”

In addition, just like during related phone calls, Bernie calmed the victim and her startled husband. He ignored the commands of other patrons to “slap her back” or “give her something to drink.”

He truly was with her the whole time.

“She was very scared and asked Bernie to pray for her,” Elizabeth said. “She was breathing by that time but Bernie stayed, assuring her that she was going to be fine.”

Paramedics arrived in minutes, having received the request for response from the same communications center where Bernie has worked for going on 17 years. The woman refused transport and was able to walk out of the restaurant unaided. Bernie returned to his dinner table.

“That’s when it hit him,” Elizabeth said. “He was worried if he had done everything right. He didn’t eat much after that and had his sandwich packed to go.”

His family and friends were silent, momentarily, but once the conversation started they never stopped talking about Bernie’s spring to action.

Bernie said the incident proved the effectiveness of instructions and reassurance he gives over the phone, and his response to the waiter was like the automatic dispatcher switch to Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs).

“At the moment, I reacted and didn’t think about it,” he said. “It was a very random situation.”

Bernie didn’t impress just his friends and family, including his two children at the table. Word reached the EPFD and he was nominated for the department’s Civilian Citation Medal for his lifesaving actions while off duty. He was presented with the award on Sept. 20.

“I’m not surprised at all that Bernie did what he did,” said Frances Jimenez-Lucero, EPFD public safety shift supervisor. “He’s just that kind of guy.”