Firefighter Faces Guilt After Double Drownings Off Park Point
Firefighter Kevin Haney: "You Get A Lot Of Different Feelings"
DULUTH, Minn. – A captain on the Duluth Fire Department is opening up about the relentless struggle to help rescue a missing father and daughter in the waters off Park Point earlier this month.
The two victims would eventually be found without a pulse and later pronounced dead at a Duluth hospital.
The purpose of this story is to get a very real understanding of the deep struggles our first responders face during and especially after tragedies involving death, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.
Sometimes when life throws you struggles, talking to another human being — even a stranger in this case — can ease the pain just a little bit.
“This was from a fire. I was trying to break down a door to get into the fire so that we could search for the people. Something went wrong and I tore the muscle in my calf, explained Capt. Kevin Haney.
But Haney, and 18-year veteran of the Duluth Fire Department, the pain goes far deeper than any wound to the leg.
“It became more personal than any other call I had been on,” Haney said.
Two weeks ago.
A vicious Lake Superior near the Park Point Beach House.
“Upon arrival, we found a juvenile female who stated that her sister and her father were in the water and hadn’t been seen for 10 minutes,” explained Asst. Fire Chief Erik Simonson to the media on Aug. 10.
“There’s a very powerful rip current right now,” Simonson said.
“We had one firefighter take in a lot of water during the last rescue effort,” Simonson said.
That firefighter was Kevin, a father himself, desperately searching for 38-year-old Ryan Fuglie after his 10-year-old daughter, Lilly, was pulled to shore without a pulse.
“When I first secured the victim and tapped my head, which is a signal to pull me in, a six, seven foot wave came down and hit me and I aspirated, and when I aspirated, then I wound up vomiting, and when I vomited I aspirated again,” Kevin explained.
But that lack of air didn’t stop his mission.
“I managed to make it half way in before I dropped the victim once and had to stop and go back and secure him again and then bring him into shore,” Kevin said.
Both victims would later be pronounced dead at a Duluth hospital.
“He did what any parent would do. I’m a parent and I know all the people that I know, I know they would give up their life in a heartbeat for their kid, and he did … unfortunately it didn’t help,” Kevin described of the father’s fight to save his daughter that day in the water.
Kevin believes the two were out swimming in the waves when the girl was swept away by a fierce rip current before the father would end up in the same death trap trying to save his little girl.
“They were more visual than I have ever seen them in my life,” Kevin explained of the rip currents that day.
“You get a lot of different feelings, ya know, you get the sadness and the pain of it, but then you get a lot of guilt, at least I got a lot of guilt — because of the results,” Kevin said.
“The wellness of our firefighters is the most important thing to me — bar none,” said Chief Denny Edwards.
Edwards is a 21-year veteran of the department and says his men and woman participated in a mental health debriefing a few days after the tragedy to hold each other up and move forward in the healthiest way one can only hope for.
“We’re always concerned about what happens after the call now, not just during the call,” Edwards said.
And that concern also involves the performance of equipment, which in this case, proved to be an exhausting force against his men and women.
“The suits we were wearing that day weren’t necessarily — they’re not supposed to be used for beach-type rescue,” Edwards said.
But that’s all the department has: those yellow very buoyant suits made for floating during ice rescues, not summer swimming and fighting large waves.
“That was one of the frustrating things for our firefighters is not being able to get to where they wanted to be as fast as they wanted to do it,” Edwards said.
Edwards, whose department is facing cuts in Mayor Emily Larson’s proposed 2018 budget, says he’ll find a way to invest in new swim wear – most likely through grants.
“It’s always a risk and a cost assessment, and we have to spend the tax dollars wisely,” Edwards said.
In the meantime, Kevin is taking one day at a time, finding himself on this day of the interview talking with that random citizen, Rehila Cheudhry, a local doctor who reminds him the special type of human it takes to put their own life on the sidelines to help save others.
“He try his best, ya know, and this type of person always got reward in this world and heaven too,” Cheudhry said.
And there’s one more thing that makes this crossing of paths even more on point.
“I have an 8-year-old boy. He wants to be a firefighter one day,” Cheudhry said. “After talking with him and you know all that, I’m ready to put my eight-year-old as a firefighter too, that’s made my day.”
A true sign of humanity at its finest.
“I have to say thank you to them, really, they are the one who take care of our cities. They are the ones who take care of our lives as well, really, so we are really proud of you, really,” Cheudhry said to Kevin.
“Thank you, that’s nice to hear,” Kevin replied.
Kevin expects to be fully recovered from his calf injury in the next four to six months.