Longtime EMT stepping away, leaving legacy of lifesaving skills
In June 2001, a 17 year-old named Kenneth W. Richards III was in a car with his uncle when they came across a gruesome wreck: A woman was pinned under her car, unconscious, after it hit a guardrail and flipped over three times.
Richards, the son of Old Mystic Fire Department Chief Kenneth Richards Jr., pulled the woman out just before her car burst into flames. He kept her alive, holding bags of frozen peas and ravioli to her neck to control swelling and protect her airway until an ambulance arrived. He walked away from the scene without giving his name, and was only recognized by the fire district’s board of directors a month later.
“If it weren't for him,” the woman told The Day in 2001, “I otherwise would have burned in the car.”
Richards, though, attributed the rescue to another man: George Fargo, a commander at the Mystic River Ambulance Association who for decades has taught emergency medical service and CPR classes to generations of emergency responders in the region.
“He was probably one of the reasons she's still alive, because I remembered everything he taught me — him and my father, both,” Richards said.
After a five-decade career teaching thousands of local people who have come to him to learn CPR and first aid, the 85-year-old Fargo is finally retiring.
He oversaw his last CPR certification sessions at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital on Thursday, just days before he will move from Mystic to Maine with his wife, Kathleen, to be closer to their daughter.
Scott Thompson, a registered nurse in the hospital’s psychiatric department, walked in slightly jittery to take the practical part of his recertification Thursday. Fargo leapt up from behind the desk in his classroom and got right to work. The two men took their position on the floor beside a CPR mannequin. Fargo knelt beside his student, keeping a firm hand on the mannequin and watching Thompson’s hands closely.
“Ok,” he said softly. “Watch your hand position.”
They sat in silence for a few seconds, the only sound in the room the rhythmic thumping of the mannequin’s chest as Thompson did the compressions and mimicked breathing into its mouth.
Every few seconds Fargo offered advice in a low, steady voice or adjusted the mannequin.
“Good,” he said as Thompson moved on to an infant-sized mannequin. “That’s it.”
When it was all over, Fargo took out his student’s certification paperwork and stamped it in all the right places.
“Thank you,” Thompson said.
“I didn’t do anything,” Fargo said. "You did all the work.”
For years, at the same time as Fargo was a career firefighter and EMT at Electric Boat and a volunteer with fire departments across southeastern Connecticut, he has taught classes to hospital staff, who are required to keep their CPR certification up to date and most of whom have met Fargo once every two years.
He has been an American Red Cross first-aid instructor since 1966, and was one of the first emergency medical service and CPR instructors in the area in the early 1970s.
He started with the state Forestry Department as a firefighter at age 14. Meanwhile, a paper route in Waterford brought him by the Cohanzie Fire Department, where he made friends and eventually joined as a member years later.
In addition to his 34-year career at Electric Boat, where he retired in 1993, Fargo volunteered at four fire departments and multiple ambulance companies. He also worked for nearly a dozen years, between his job and volunteer duties, to get his associate's degree in science in fire technology and administration in 1977 at the then-Thames Valley State Technical College. In 2001, when he retired from Mystic River Ambulance at age 69, Fargo was one of the company's busiest members.
When he retired from Electric Boat, and then again when he retired from the ambulance company, he insisted it wasn’t really a retirement.
“You don’t retire,” he said Thursday. “You change jobs. All I did was change jobs from firefighter ... to teaching CPR.”
Kenneth Richards Jr., whose son was the man who rescued the woman from the burning car in 2001, said Fargo trained both him and his children in CPR, and the two men ended up working together in Mystic.
He said he doubts even the move to Maine will mean a true retirement for Fargo.
"He’ll volunteer wherever he can," Richards said. "I don’t have any doubt in my mind, he’ll find some way to teach CPR or something."
Fargo said he, like all other emergency responders, has had moments in his career he can still remember vividly. He recalled an 8-year-old girl who died while he tried to revive her after a house fire, a man who threatened to sue when Fargo broke four of his ribs while saving him from choking, and plenty of car crashes when he said he could "wring the driver's neck" for not keeping children in a car seat.
After Fargo moves to Maine this weekend, Ronald Kersey said he won't be able to replace Fargo with one person to take over the hospital's training programs. He'll need to hire three people, he said.
Since Fargo began teaching the first EMS classes in the region, it's hard to meet anyone who wasn't trained by Fargo, or someone he trained.
"He never slowed down," Kersey said.
Fargo has guided thousands — maybe more — of local medical workers, emergency volunteers and child care staff through CPR and first-aid courses with gentle encouragement and quips, like the line he says to people being too easy on the mannequin while they’re doing compressions.
“They can’t get any worse," he says. "But they can get better."
There’s no way of knowing how many people have saved lives with skills they learned from Fargo, like Richards did in 2001.
“It’s like being an octopus,” Fargo said. “You put a lot of arms out there ... and the more people who get trained, the more people can survive an untimely event.”
He has had some positive feedback.
“I’ve had a couple of people call,” he said. “They say ‘it worked!’ That makes it all worthwhile.”
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