Irish eyes were certainly smiling on March 9 during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Hartford as a quick-thinking WRTC host went from being a celebratory drummer to a lifesaver.
Tom Dalton — who hosts Questionable Choices on Friday afternoons – is known as the “The Chief” when he’s on the air, but that nickname was more than fitting as the 48th edition of the annual parade was heading into the final stretch.
A long-time drummer in the Glastonbury-based St. Patrick’s Pipe Band – a fixture at the event each year – Dalton and nearly 20 band mates had the honor of being the first marching band in the parade, slotting between the Hartford Police Department which led the way and the Hartford Fire Department which followed the pipe band.
Dalton joined WRTC shortly after retiring as a deputy chief with the Hartford Fire Department last year.
His unflappability, plus two decades-plus of experience at the department, paid massive dividends when a piper marching in front of Dalton suddenly went into cardiac arrest and collapsed as the band moved down Asylum Avenue and passed Black-Eyed Sally’s.
“He just went down in front of me,” Dalton said, “and from there, it was all hands on deck.”
Dalton immediately attended to his colleague, an auxiliary state trooper, as he established an airway and began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Summoning on duty police officer, he directed them to call an ambulance and soon had an automated external defibrillator (AED) and had administered a life-saving shock.
“It all happened really quickly,” said Dalton. “We were there just thumping and pumping (CPR), but people responded and did what they were supposed to do. We really clicked and because of it, we saved his life. It was intense, really all hands on deck.”
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade traditionally marks the busiest day of the year for Hartford and thousands of people were lining the parade route which began at the State Capitol before heading down Main Street to Asylum Avenue before turning on Ford Street and finishing under the Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Arch.
Due to the throngs of people — made even larger as the parade ground to a halt when the marcher went down causing the usual “curiosity factor” as people converged on the area where Dalton and other responders were working to revive the man — it became evident that getting the ambulance through the mass of onlookers could be difficult.
Since he was “at the head” of the fallen man, Dalton was in command of the situation by default.
“It all happened really quickly,” Dalton said. “You’re on an adrenaline rush and you’re so focused on what you’re doing, making sure to take care of the guy, but also, that other people can do what they’re supposed to do.”
“He got that zap with the AED and I just started yelling ‘Get him into the bus (ambulance), get him into the bus.’ Then I started making a tomahawk motion with my hand to get the ambulance moving.”
Police on site had the chore of getting the crowd out of the way, according to Dalton who remembers yelling to them, “Make a hole (for the ambulance), but make it a really wide hole.”
Dalton admitted that people probably thought he was crazy. “Here I am, yelling and screaming at people to do this or do that,” he said, “and I’m wearing a kilt.”
The man was bundled into an ambulance and rushed to Saint Francis Hospital where he was later reported in stable and improving condition.
Then it was back to the business at hand — completing the parade.
“We just dusted ourselves off,” Dalton said, “got back in formation and finished the parade.”