East Marion F.D. volunteer helps rescue Riverhead teacher

Greg Wallace
Greg Wallace, a rescue volunteer with the East Marion Fire Department, was one of the people who quickly rushed to Mr. Hughes’ aid. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file 2010)

Hours after he collapsed at Riverhead High School’s Crazy Sports Night and was revived by a team of Riverhead EMTs and medical volunteers from the crowd, Phillips Avenue teacher Lonnie Hughes is in good condition Saturday morning, school officials said.

“He’s OK … He was smiling, joking around,” said Superintendent Nancy Carney. “The police and the EMTs were great.”

Mr. Hughes — a fourth-grade teacher at the school — remains at Stony Brook University Medical Center to be evaluated as doctors try to determine what caused him to go into cardiac arrest Friday night, Ms. Carney said.

“We had an ambulance on site, we also had some staff members who were EMTs,” she said. “They were just phenomenal.”

Mr. Hughes was the anchor of a tug-of-war team, but when the event finished, he fell onto the court, witnesses said.

James Nizza — a longtime Center Moriches firefighter and Fire Chief at the Westhampton Air National Guard base, whose wife is a teacher at Pulaski Street school — was sitting with his family when he saw Mr. Hughes collapse.

His training as an emergency medical technician kicked in.

“I knew something wasn’t right so I headed over there,” he recalled.

Meanwhile, Riverhead High School science teacher Greg Wallace was sitting on the floor and didn’t see Mr. Hughes collapse.

But when school officials called for emergency help on the court, Mr. Wallace — a rescue volunteer with the East Marion Fire Department — rushed to help.

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps ALS provider and crew leader Jennifer Kelly was in the crowd with her nephew, and was also among the first to come to Mr. Hughes’ aid.

Mr. Nizza began doing compressions to restart Mr. Hughes’ heart, while others cleared his airway and began breathing for him.

“Everybody has a role,” Mr. Wallace said. “The system worked the way it was supposed to.”

“It just becomes reactionary,” Mr. Nizza said. “It becomes engrained.”

Mr. Hughes was stabilized by a Riverhead Volunteer ambulance team — manned by volunteers Sue Schleef, Sameer Anand, Heather Zilnicki, Chris Mazucca and Laura Donahue — that was standing by at the school in case of emergency as the gym was cleared.

Ms. Carney praised the orderly evacuation by police and school security, as well as the calm attitude of those in the audience.

A second team of volunteers also arrived at the high school from Riverhead ambulance headquarters to assist: Joe Sokolski, Andrej Ceckowski, Chris Fleming, Sandra Ruttkayova and Martin McKenna.

“Every one of our members is CPR certified, and AED (automated external defibrillator) certified,” said assistant chief Lisa Corwin. “That’s the first training we teach them.”

Mr. Hughes was taken by Riverhead ambulance to Peconic Bay Medical Center and was later transferred to Stony Brook University Medical Center to undergo tests.

Mr. Hughes owes his life to the fast-acting EMTs who rushed to his aid.

“It paid off for Lonnie,” Mr. Wallace said. “We were in the right place at the right time.”

Mr. Nizza said that while those who saved Mr. Hughes last night were professional volunteers, anyone with CPR and defribulator training could have saved him. The key was getting there as fast as they did.

“Honestly, that’s what I believe saved Lonnie last night,” Mr. Nizza said.

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A fourth-grade
A fourth-grade Phillips Avenue teacher was revived by EMTs and volunteers in the Riverhead High School gym during Friday night’s Crazy Sports Night event. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)