Sung-ho Chong

Spotlight on You: Sung-ho Chong

Area I firefighter rushes to the rescue

by: Franklin Fisher | .
U.S. Army | .
published: August 02, 2016

CAMP RED CLOUD -- His shift over as a firefighter at the Army's Warrior Base in Paju, Chong Sung-ho, a tall, fit-looking 35-year-old in a blue T-shirt and white shorts started the car and headed home to join his wife for an 8 p.m. tenants' meeting at their apartment complex in Dongducheon.

The management was putting some apartments on sale and Chong and his wife wanted to hear details, including sale prices.

The June 26 meeting was in the basement parking lot of his building, and when he arrived Chong saw a crowd of 70 to 100 people gathered to discuss the offer.

At times the discussion got heated. About 40 minutes in, a man was speaking excitedly in opposition to something the tenant's committee chairman had just said, Chong remembered in a recent interview on Camp Red Cloud.

The man, wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt, light-colored shorts and sandals, had short, graying hair and looked in his 60s. He was short, and, Chong could see, overweight.

Moments after the man started talking he collapsed to the floor.

Chong watched for a second or so to see if the man might need help.

His wife said just one word -- "Oppa!" -- a word akin to "Honey!" and Chong got moving.

"My instincts and training just took over," he recalled.

On his smart phone he dialed Korea's emergency number -- 1-1-9, handed his wife the phone and rushed to the man, who was about three yards away, lying crumpled and with the side of his face against the garage floor.

Just as he's been trained to do, Chong told a bystander to call 119. He's also trained to ask if there's a nearby portable electronic machine used for treating hearts attacks. It's called AED, for automated external defibrillator. It helps gauge what's going on during a heart attack and allows the user to help the situation by applying electric shocks. Timely use of the equipment can among other things help avert irreversible brain damage or death, Chong said.

Chong remembered seeing one in the building management office. Now, he turned to a man he believed to be a member of the management staff and asked him to bring the AED kit.

Then, as he moved to turn the fallen man face up, two other men pitched in to help turn him.

Chong checked the man's breathing. He was exhaling but not drawing air back in.

He tilted the man's head back and put a hand under his neck.

The man was pale and turning bluish. Fluid ran from the corners of both eyes, which were open but blank and unfocused. His arms went stiff, his body tightened inward, and he was making a steady grunting sound.

The sound began to fade. Then stopped.

Meanwhile, a woman who'd been part of the meeting now rushed forward and began checking the man's pulse, Chong said. Chong was so absorbed in helping the stricken man that he doesn't remember what the woman looked like. He only remembers hearing a female's voice.

Pulse weak, breathing weak.

It seemed his heart had stopped.

The woman began heart massage, pressing her hands down on the man's chest.

She kept at it and after about 15 seconds the man came to life with a sudden, deep inhalation.

But he was still pale, bluish and stiff.

By now the man who'd gone for the AED kit brought it over.

Chong took its patches and placed them, as his Area I firefighter training has taught him, on two places, one near the man's heart, the other on the lower torso. The pads feed information that comes out in the form of audio instructions to the person using the kit.

It was saying, in Korean, to keep up the heart massage.

As Chong continued the CPR the ambulance pulled in. Chong's wife had gone outside, awaited its arrival, and guided it in.

The ambulance crew told Chong to continue the heart massage. Then they took over, using their own electronic equipment. The man quickly regained consciousness.

They put him on a gurney and rushed him to a hospital, little more than seven or eight minutes from the time he'd collapsed, Chong said.

The tenants, Chong remembered, went right back to discussing the apartment sale.

Maybe 10 days later, Chong's wife saw the man sitting on a bench just outside their apartment complex. He was sitting with others, talking and smiling. She gave her husband this news with gladness in her voice.

Nearly three weeks after the incident, Chong's wife, visibly proud and delighted, told him her older sister had heard from a friend how Chong had sprung into action to save a life.

His two children, a boy, 10, and girl, 7, were excited at word of what their ap'pa -- a Korean word for dad -- had done.

"They said, 'Ap'pa, we didn't get to see what you did," said Chong. "Tell us what happened.'"

He told them and they smiled, beaming with admiration.

Fellow-Area I firefighters have also complimented him on his actions that night.

The woman who, like Chong, had also given sure-handed aid to the man, turned out to be Kong Soon-yeol, 53, head of the Dongducheon Fire Department's Female Auxiliary.

On July 22 Chong and Kong went to a firehouse in Dongducheon where the chief of the city's fire department, Kwon Yong-han, presented each a medal for quick action in saving the life of a heart attack victim. The accompanying citation was signed by the Gyeonggi Province Governor, Nam Kyoung-pil.

"Since this happened," said Chong, "one thought stays in my mind. In this case, I happen to be the one who was involved. But it could have been anybody who helped him. Like the people who made 119 calls or the man who brought the AED. They were all part of this. I think they deserve the same recognition."

Col. Brandon D. Newton, Commander, U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I, praised Chong's quick, cool-headed actions and said they offered a clear example of the U.S. Army's readiness to use its training and other capabilities to aid its Korean neighbors.

"The actions of Firefighter Chong were in keeping with the spirit of mutual cooperation between us and our neighboring Korean communities," said Newton. "His actions reflect our readiness to draw on our capabilities -- such as those of our well-trained firefighters -- to come to the aid of our Korean neighbors, just as our neighbors are ready to aid us," said Newton.

"We're always able, and obligated, to offer our services immediately, as Firefighter Chong did that night, not only as individuals but also as a garrison," Newton said. "We would support the Korean community with everything we have."

"I like being a firefighter," said Chong. "Except for training situations, it was my first time to see somebody fall down in front of me," he said. "My training was really helpful. So after this, if the same situation happens, I feel confident that I can handle it properly."

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