When Brent Cinberg was awakened by screaming and a loud knock at his door at 4:45 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2017, he had no idea what to expect. An EMT for the EMS Division of the Elizabeth Fire Department in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Brent worked nights and usually slept from 9 a.m. until 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
When a pajama-clad Brent opened his door in a sleep-filled haze, he was stunned to see his neighbor holding his 3-month old daughter, who was cyanotic and essentially lifeless. Several other neighbors flanked the terrified father, who handed his daughter to Brent, begging him to save her.
The Elizabeth EMS team doesn’t perform pediatric CPR on a daily basis, and Brent himself hadn’t worked on a child in over a month. He also lacked the usual resources. “I had nothing,” he said. “No backpack and no partner. So I immediately went through the textbook steps in my mind and told my neighbors to call the cavalry.”
An engine arrived first, allowing Brent to put the baby on oxygen while continuing CPR. In less than three minutes, his coworkers arrived via ambulance. Brent placed the baby on a stretcher while describing to paramedics what had transpired. Still critical, the baby was transported to a nearby hospital. Once stabilized, she was transferred to a specialized children’s hospital for further treatment. Today, thanks to Brent’s intervention, the child is healthy with no long-term cognitive deficits.
How was Brent, who was awoken from a deep sleep, able to remain calm enough to treat the child while surrounded by frantic neighbors? First, a sense of calmness was instilled in him from an early age. His father is an ear, nose and throat surgeon, and his mother, a teacher, is also a volunteer firefighter. Brent was also a lifeguard as a teenager. “Because of all of that, I think I have a better sense of being calm in tense situations than the average Joe,” he said.
Ultimately, Brent said, it came down to confidence in his training. “I’ve done so many calls and have seen for myself that CPR works,” he said. “So when I was in a situation that wasn’t run-of-the-mill like this one, I was prepared because I believed in my training.”
Brent encourages everyone to have at least a basic knowledge of CPR. “The more people who can perform CPR, the better it is for society as a whole,” he said. “It’s one of those things in life that you don’t necessarily think you need until you do — but then you’re so happy that you took the time to learn something that can be so powerful.”