Walla Walla firefighter saves man’s life on cruise

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Timing is everything. Good fortune smiled upon Florida tourist Jim Rooke because Walla Walla Fire Department Capt. Steve Sickles also chose to sail aboard the Celebrity Equinox at the same time. Steve was on vacation with wife Carolyn and her parents, Harley and Joy Stafford, all of Walla Walla.

Steve deployed CPR and saved Jim’s life.

Passengers on the sail had completed ports of call on the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, France Spain and the island of Madeira, Portugal, when Steve, enjoying the sun on the deck above the swimming pool, noticed a commotion poolside about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 3.

The ship had departed Madeira and was 18 hours west of Portugal on the trans-Atlantic crossing to Florida when Steve saw a woman run to the bartender by the pool, frantic and pointing. He went down to check on Jim, who was unconscious in a lounge chair, with his distraught wife Gloria Rooke, by his side.

“I said something like I’m an EMT and can help,” Steve said. “I checked for a pulse, opened an airway and with the help of another guy, lowered him to the floor and started CPR. I traded off with another guy.”

“My husband appeared to fall asleep but he expelled two gasps that didn’t sound right to me,” Gloria wrote in a letter of thanks to WWFD Chief Bob Yancey.

“I tried to wake him but he did not respond and I felt for a pulse in his neck and found none. I started CPR (I had not had CPR training in twenty years and although I was getting a breath occasionally, I know I could not have kept him alive).

“I asked a fellow passenger to get the medical staff. The next thing I knew an angel asked me if I needed help. That angel was your employee, Steve Sickles. He was joined by two other gentlemen.”

Another man told Steve it was about 8 minutes before medical staff came on deck, took over and with an auto external defibrillator, shocked Jim’s heart back into rhythm, then took him to the ship’s infirmary, Steve said.

Gloria said in her letter that the trio were all EMTs, two with fire departments and one retired from American Airlines.

“They took turns keeping my husband oxygenated for at least fifteen minutes until the medical staff arrived. My husband would not be alive today if it were not for the efforts of Steve and the two other EMTs. It required the use of an AED several times to revive him and even after that we lost him again. He was eventually revived and placed on a respirator.”

Shortly after that, Equinox’s captain turned her about and headed back to Madeira because otherwise the next port was seven days away in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Steve said. A helicopter came and took Jim to a Madeira hospital.

Since then, Steve’s talked with and emailed Gloria. “It took two weeks to get him home,” Gloria wrote. He was immediately hospitalized and had a defibrillator implanted. “He is getting stronger each day and is nearly back to his old self,” she wrote.

“I cannot say enough about the way that Steve responded to our need. He is indeed an angel who kept my husband oxygenated and without neurological damage. I can never repay his kindness and his professionalism.

“What you all do is amazing and truly God’s work. Steve was where he needed to be that day and did what he was so well trained to do. Thank you for giving us this special man that particular day.”

Steve said that “If you know what to do it’s pretty automatic to do CPR. The key to (Jim’s) survival was that it happened there, immediately something was started and continued until the medical professionals arrived.”

Steve trained as an emergency medical technician at Walla Walla Community College 30 years ago and has kept current through CPR recertification and continuing training at the WWFD. He’s done CPR quite often over the years, but less now as he’s in a supervisory position.

“There’s always adrenaline, like with a structure fire,” Steve said of CPR. “We’re just trained to do it and I’ve done it 28 years ­— I don’t want to say I’ve done CPR hundreds of times but many times,” Steve said.

Under normal circumstances emergency services personnel don’t usually know how things turn out, but Steve later met aboard ship with Gloria and the others who helped out.

The Sickles’ and Staffords’ two-week trip was from late November to Dec. 10, Steve said. The news might have stayed quiet, except that a letter from a grateful Gloria was posted Feb. 5 on the WWPF Local 404 Facebook page and “went viral,” Steve said.

Added Chief Yancey on the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/wwpflocal404, “thank you Mrs. Rooke for the letter, and we’re proud of you Capt. Sickles!”

For his part, Steve said “I’m sure some day we’ll go on another cruise. They’re usually relaxing vacations.”


Five Walla Walla High School students competed with students on more than 65 teams in the 22nd annual Bonneville Power Administration Regional Science Bowl Feb. 2 in Portland.

Wa-Hi’s teammates included Teresa Olivos, Paola Flores, Nadia Serria, Bertha Madrigal and Marilyn Mendoza. Their coach is Diana Erickson.

Science Bowl is a quiz-style question-and-answer competition that challenges students on math and science concepts, according to a release.

It’s the 10th year a team from Wa-Hi has competed. They had support from Presbyterian Church in College Place, Pacific Power and Exploring Post 311.

Wa-Hi competitors also toured the Oregon Portland Zoo and saw new baby elephant Lily, who was born in November.

Exploring Post 311 is a Learning for Life program, a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America.


Washington State Patrol Trooper Joe Klundt received Exchange Club of Walla Walla’s Officer of the Year Award. He was nominated by the sergeants and Mike Eggleston with the state patrol.

Also honored with Exchange’s Officer of the Year Award is city of Walla Walla Police Detective Miguel Sanchez. Police sergeants and Chief Scott Beiber nominated him.

“Trooper Klundt consistently excels in his approach to traffic safety through dedication, education and enforcement,” Mike said. Joe joined the state patrol in July 1985 and started working in the Walla Walla Valley in 1991.

He garnered District 3 Officer of the Year honors in 2011. There are 55 troopers in seven counties in the district.

Most recently Joe has been assigned to the governor’s transitional protection detail in Olympia, due to his tenure and rapport with the WSP Special Operations Division.

“Detective Sanchez is one of the stars at the Walla Walla Police Department,” his chief said. “Miguel truly cares about the crime victims in our valley and that those who commit the crimes are held accountable by the justice system.”

Miguel joined WWPD in 1998 after retiring from the U.S. Army. Sanchez serves as a chairman for Walla Walla Community College, is a member of the Sexual Offender Registration Team, participates on the Spanish DUI Impact Panel and is on the Child Abduction Response Team.

“First it’s truly remarkable that the Exchange Club of Walla Walla participates in the Officer of the Year program, and secondly I feel honored to be the chairperson of this program,” said Kim McDaniels, Exchange Club Program Officer of the Year chair. “Unfortunately, it’s not often the community members recognize our officers how much they put on the line everyday and how much heart they bring to everything they do.”

Kim McDaniels is the Exchange Club Officer of the Year program chairperson.

Exchange members strive make their communities better places to live through programs of service in Americanism, community service, youth activities and the prevention of child abuse, a national focus.

They seek to honor public employees who devote their time and talents to improving the quality of life in their communities, said Mark Higgins, in a release.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313.

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