‘We need more people like that:’ Smithfield firefighters save man from heart attack

Published 5:58 pm Monday, November 13, 2023

After playing in an Oct. 18 adult co-ed softball game at Nike Park, Curtis Bryant told his wife, Neysa, that his chest felt tight.

The 48-year-old, who by day operates heavy equipment for the tree clearing and removal business that bears his name, had no history of heart issues, but his worsening symptoms during the drive home worried Neysa enough to insist he pull over and let her take the wheel. By the time the couple reached the intersection by Ringo’s Donuts in Smithfield, Curtis told her he was experiencing chest pain.

Fearing the worst, Neysa made the split-second decision to pull into the parking lot of the fire station on South Church Street rather than head home, and not a moment too soon. Four firefighters immediately responded when she rang the station’s doorbell at 10 p.m. When Curtis went into cardiac arrest while still in the family’s truck waiting for an ambulance, Fire Lt. Stephen Tate began CPR – an act Neysa credits with saving Curtis’ life.

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Employees and customers of Freedom Farm in Carrollton, where Curtis works and Neysa rides horses, on Nov. 5 presented the firefighters on duty the evening of Curtis’ heart attack with a $1,200 donation.

“Our first thought was to do something for the Bryants, then we started thinking about doing something for the fire department,” said Peg Seals, owner and head trainer at Freedom Farm.

All the customers love Curtis,” said Renee Bevan, who’s been a friend of Neysa’s and fellow rider at Freedom Farm for roughly 20 years.

The group purchased $600 in Q-Daddy’s Pitmaster BBQ gift cards for each of the firefighters and gave another $600 cash donation to the department itself.

Neysa, to this day, isn’t sure what possessed her to head to the fire station. She’s friends with one of its members whose children attend the same school as hers, and was trying to reach him on her cellphone when she rang the station’s doorbell. Neysa has no doubts that had no one been there late into the evening, Curtis “would not be here.”

“If they had not had quality trained personnel at that department, we would be having a different conversation,” Neysa said.

Curtis was first taken by ambulance to Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk, then airlifted to Norfolk General, where he spent five days.

Two of the firefighters on duty the evening of Oct. 18 – Tate and Michael Savi – are what the department refers to as “live-ins.”

According to the department’s website, the South Church Street station has 10 private rooms that members can move into rent-free, with internet, cable, shared bathrooms, laundry facilities, a commercial kitchen and gym. Live-ins are required to be employed full-time or be a full-time student, and must provide at least 60 hours of on-duty time per week.

“Somebody’s always at the station,” said Deputy Chief Charlie Kempton.

The live-in program predates the South Church Street station’s 2010 construction, when the department was operating out of its downtown station on Grace Street.

“It was started with two firefighters that lived at that station,”Kempton said.

Another requirement for live-ins is that they be certified firefighters, Kempton said. The department requires all of its firefighters, live-in or not, to be trained in CPR.

“Big as this county is growing, we need more people like that around here,” Neysa said.