Alaska fire chief rescues crash victim, then suffers heart attack

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NENANA, Alaska (KTUU) - Sometime between calling an ambulance for chest pain and being airlifted to Anchorage for heart surgery, Nenana Fire Chief Joe Forness found the time to help take a car crash victim to the hospital.

"I had an off feeling in my chest. I didn't really think it was cardiac related because the signs and symptoms did not match cardiac," Joe Forness the Nenana Fire Chief said.

Larenda Forness, a Nenana Fire Lientenant and Forness' wife said, she knew something was wrong.

She said he told her his pain level at the time was was a 12 out of 10, which prompted her to call an ambulance.

The couple is used to helping people, not getting help.

"Like 10 minutes went by and all my symptoms went away. I was thinking it was gas or something along those lines," Joe said.

About that time the ambulance driver slowed down, said Larenda.

They came across someone who was in critical condition from a collision between a snow machine a vehicle collision.

"The driver hollered back that there was an accident on the road," Larenda said, "I hollered at him to just be careful, make sure they have help coming and we will send help down the road because we already have a patient."

So Joe did what he's done since 1990: Jumped into action. He jumped off the gurney, ripped some electrodes off his chest and helped.

"They needed the ER at that point more than I️ did.”Joe said.

The couple quickly switched roles and began helping the new patient in critical need.

They made it to the hospital just in time for both patients.

"As soon as we got there and handed the patient off to the ER team, I stepped away I could feel a really serious chest pain," Joe said.

He was airlifted to Anchorage, underwent quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery and is recovering at home.

"I would do it again in a heartbeat," Joe said. “We understand that when we put our uniforms on, or answer the call for help, that we may not come home from that call. We don’t do I️t for us, we do it so others may live, and that’s why I️ do what I️ do.”

Chief Forness has since returned to Nenana and is undergoing rehabilitation therapy. As long as his doctor approves, he plans to be on the job, in a limited role, by the end of January.

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