SHARON – Children learn early that they can count on the police when something bad happens. Even when something happens to Santa Claus.
Local Santa James Flickinger got expert help quickly Sunday afternoon when he had a heart attack and collapsed during a Christmas party where he was the guest of honor for the children and grandchildren of members of Sharon Police Department.
He got first aid from two policemen and a nurse – Amy Smith, the chief's wife – all of whom leaped into cardiopulmonary resuscitation mode during the emergency at Apollo Maennerchor Club, 391 S. Dock St., Chief Gerry Smith said.
Flickinger, who has delighted local children as Santa Claus for decades, had already made his festive entrance, climbing the stairs with a sack of toys to reach the "festhalle," or auditorium on the second floor. He had taken photos with many of the two dozen youngsters waiting to receive their presents during the party hosted by members of Rose of Sharon Lodge 3 of Fraternal Order of Police.
Flickinger was on the stage distributing presents when he became ill. Mrs. Smith began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, forcing air into his mouth while Cpl. Tom Mack and patrolman Geoff Ballard applied chest compressions.
Mrs. Smith holds a doctorate in nursing practice and worked for many years in the heart catheterization laboratory at the hospital of Sharon Regional Health System. She is also acting chief executive officer at Sharon Regional.
Mack was a paramedic before joining the police force and Ballard is an emergency medical technician. He also is a medic with the Critical Incident Response Team, which is made up of police throughout Mercer County.
"You do two breaths and then 30 compressions," the police chief said of the CPR process. "The compressions are hard so we had two guys doing that."
Patrolman John Zych was on duty in his cruiser and arrived quickly with an automated electronic defibrillator that delivers electrical shocks to restore heart beats.
The team managed to get Flickinger breathing just before a crew from McGonigle Ambulance Service took over and transported him to the hospital. Smith said Flickinger, 80, was in stable condition late Monday afternoon at Sharon Regional.
"This was a perfect example of professionalism and training," the chief said. "The total elapsed time from when he went down until he left on a stretcher was eight minutes."
Tom Amundsen, president of the club that preserves German culture, praised the police for taking the emergency in stride.
"There couldn't have been a better group to be there for something like this," he said. "I don't think anyone else would have been able to react that quickly."
Lt. Mark Johnson said other police and their spouses quickly set about moving the children quietly and calmly downstairs to keep them from being traumatized by the misfortune that had befallen Flickinger.
Ruth Bewley, whose late husband Jesse was a Sharon policeman, soon had the kids decorating gingerbread figures, assisted by other spouses and girlfriends.
"They basically told them Santa wasn't feeling well," Johnson said.
Smith said the incident also got him thinking about upgrading the department's supply of three AEDs.
"When you use one, it has to be recharged and get new paddles and that puts it out of use for a couple of days," he said. "I'd like to replace them with five new AEDs if we can find some grant money."