Off-duty first responders honored for saving elderly man’s life during hockey game

A team of off-duty first responders playing hockey in Mount Clemens demonstrated their teamwork in another way when an elderly man suffered a cardiac arrest during the game.

Their show of immediately knowing what to do in the emergency saved the man’s life and resulted in a show of gratitude from elected officials in Mount Clemens.

Mayor Laura Kropp and the City Commission last week presented the group with a Citizen Hero Award certificate from the city and state Rep. Denise Mentzer and state Senator Kevin Hertel added a tribute from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The mayor said the award was “in recognition of (your) quick action and heroic effort to save the life of Rich Mazzella.”

Receiving the awards were retired Roseville firefighter Michael Schwartz, Roseville retired fire Battalion Chief Todd Adams, Monroe fire Capt. Derek Kull, and Rochester police officer James Penman.

The four were among a group playing hockey while off-duty at the Mount Clemens Ice Rink with 84-year-old Rich Mazzella one morning this past February when Mazzella collapsed at the end of this second shift on the ice. They quickly jumped into action assessing the elderly man’s condition on the ice and determined he suffered a cardiac arrest.

While one of the group called 911, others retrieved the arena’s AED (automatic external defibrillator) and used it to shock Mazzella. But his heart didn’t start beating, officials said.

That’s when members of the group took turns providing CPR to the man resulting in Mazzella regaining his spontaneous pulse. Minutes later, he began breathing again on his own and regained consciousness.

“By the time the ambulance arrived, Mr. Mazzella, unaware of what had happened, was awake and talking to his rescuers,” Kropp said.

Mazzella was transported to an area hospital for medical treatment. He has since returned to his normal activities, the mayor said.

After receiving their award from the city of Mount Clemens, the four men received a similar tribute thanking them for their “remarkable heroism” that was signed by Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Hertel and Mentzer.

Mazella said he’s been playing hockey with police officers and firefighters for the past 25 years. He expressed his thanks for their life-saving actions.

He recalled the words of the baseball great Lou Gehrig, whose emotional farewell speech in 1939 included the line “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

“That’s how I feel today,” Mazzella said. “I hope to be back on the ice.”

Mount Clemens officials are getting used to handing out awards for heroic behavior.

In May, the City Commission honored a crew of three trash collectors from Priority Waste who helped save the life of a 70-year-old woman who they rescued from her burning house.

Employees Gary Whitcher, Keeyon Beaty Jr., and Norberto Altman each received a Citizen Hero Award from the city for their “courage and bravery” and a tribute from the governor.