Atascadero firefighter honored for off-duty life saving

Atascadero firefighter and EMT Tom Little was honored with a standing ovation and plaque Tuesday night at the Atascadero City Council meeting.His off-duty efforts earlier this year helped save a man's life.

On Jan. 8, Little and his family were driving on Highway 46 East near Interstate 5 when they saw someone administering CPR to a man on the side of the road. They, too, stopped to help.

James Harris, 64, of Vancouver, Wash. was in cardiac arrest.

James Harris, whose first official day of retirement fell on the day of the incident, doesn't have any memory of the emergency. He has otherwise made a full recovery, he said.

Harris' wife, Susan Harris, recalled the incident.

The couple had just come from a camping trip in San Luis Obispo and was heading toward Bakersfield to visit family.

"He suddenly was pulling over in a spot where there wasn't anywhere to pull over and I saw something was really wrong," Susan Harris said.

She immediately shifted their vehicle into park and ran outside to find cell phone service.

"Then the second car pulled over," she said, with others to follow.

A nurse practitioner, also from Atascadero, and other passers-by began giving Harris CPR before Little arrived. The nurse, whose name has not been disclosed, was also selected for honors in Kern County, where the incident took place.

Little relieved the person on scene doing chest compressions, "since the individual appeared to be exhausted," Atascadero Fire Chief Kurt Stone said.

Little continued doing chest compressions for 20 to 25 minutes until the Kern County Fire Department arrived.

Little's wife, Colene Little, also helped by giving updates to the Kern County Fire Department's dispatch center.

When Kern County fire personnel arrived, two cardiac defibrillations were used before Harris's pulse was restored, officials said.

Several days later, the retired air traffic controller had made a full recovery.

On Jan. 21, he and his wife stopped by Kern County Fire Station No. 26 to say how grateful they were.

"Thanks to that firefighter, we'll celebrate our 40th anniversary this year," Susan Harris told The Tribune on Tuesday, nearly in tears.

The couple said the quick actions by Little and the other Good Samaritans helped to save his life.

"My story is that I was lucky enough to have people like Tom passing by right when I needed them," Harris said to a packed audience at Tuesday's meeting.