Anaheim Fire & Rescue captain selected as a ‘Hero with Heart’ says compassion is just part of the job
The cardiac arrest call came in to Station 7 in Anaheim on Feb. 18, 2017.
Capt. Kent Hemseri, a 25-year veteran of Anaheim Fire & Rescue, and his three crewmates turned a wheel and rolled “Big Red” to the apartment.
It wasn’t that unusual of a call, but for Hemseri, it hit close to home.
About six months before that call, his mother, Sevgi, had been diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
Turns out the man in the throes of cardiac arrest that day was a 37-year-old with ALS. His wife had gone out for groceries and found him unresponsive when she returned.
The man, who used a wheelchair, died on the floor.
Although afflicted with ALS, his passing came as a shock to his wife, who was in severe distress.
Hemseri and his team — firefighter paramedic Carlos Torres, engineer paramedic Manny Ortega, and firefighter paramedic Jade Morgan — summoned a volunteer from Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) to provide emotional and practical support to the grieving woman.
TIP volunteer Kim Holt got the call, and spent time with Hemseri and his crew.
Holt was so impressed with Hemseri that she nominated him for a TIP Heroes with Heart award, which the nonprofit bestows on about 20 first responders every year at an annual gala.
Hemseri was among the 20 honorees at this year’s event.
“He spent considerable time interacting with the man’s wife, reassuring her they were in very good hands,” Holt said in her nomination of Hemseri. “Capt. Hemseri’s eye contact, body language, and calm demeanor all communicated kindness and caring.
“I have worked with Capt. Hemseri before and he always treats Anaheim residents he encounters with compassion and caring. He is a real Hero with Heart.”
Hemseri said that because of the deceased man’s diagnosis with ALS, he was able to better connect with the woman.
“I was able to understand a little bit of what she was going through,” said Hemseri, who took her into a hallway to speak with her one on one. “It’s a terrible disease.”
Hemseri lost his mother, 80, to ALS in September.
Although he is appreciative of the TIP award, he said he doesn’t see himself as a hero.
“It’s a nice thing,” Hemseri said, “but I don’t feel like that day, I did anything different that all of us do every day. Our time on most calls is going to be short, so we think about what can we put into place to make a bad situation a little bit better.”
Hemseri praised Holt, the TIP volunteer.
“She’s very regal,” he said. “There’s a presence about her. She’s very professional.”
The call was the second he has been on with Holt. About six month ago, Hemseri worked with Holt on a call involving a retired Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighter who died at home.
Hemseri, who in addition to being a captain has been an arson investigator for eight years, always wanted to be a firefighter.
The native of Maryland grew up in Huntington Beach.
None of his family was in the fire service. He just was drawn to it.
Hemseri went to Edison High School in Huntington Beach and attended Orange Coast College and Golden West College before enrolling in Santa Ana College’s fire academy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in fire protection and administration in 1992 from Cal State Los Angeles, and that same year was hired as a fire inspector at Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
Anaheim Fire & Rescue hired him as a firefighter in 1996.
Hemseri, 49, has been a captain for four years. He spent almost 10 years as a firefighter before becoming a firefighter engineer (the person who drives and is in charge of the trucks and engines), a position he had for almost 10 years.
By the time of his planned retirement at age 55, he will have served as a captain for a decade.
It’s a well-balanced career he has loved and continues to enjoy.
Hemseri is married to a registered nurse. He and his wife have three children ages 13 to 16.
He said the TIP gala was very enjoyable. His crew members attended.
“It was really nice — a really great event,” Hemseri said.
He continues to downplay the honor as a testament to his personal skills as an Anaheim Fire & Rescue captain.
“You’re only as good as the people you have, and I have great people,” Hemseri said. “They make my job easy. This is an award for all of us in the fire department.”