A Redwood City detective and three San Mateo police officers helped save the lives of two juveniles and a toddler in separate incidents over the past week.
Redwood City police Detective Matt Cydzik on Sept. 3 while off duty in Truckee pulled two teenage victims of a fiery car crash to safety.
In San Mateo Wednesday afternoon, police Officers Stephen Bennett, Camille Cosca and Michael Nguyen performed live-saving measures on a 3-year-old who was choking on a grape on the 500 block of East Poplar Avenue.
The toddler is currently in the hospital in critical, but stable condition, police said. The status of the juvenile victims is unknown.
Cydzik was on a trip with his family when he encountered a car almost completely engulfed in flames in what appeared to be a solo collision shortly before midnight on Interstate 80 near Donner Pass Road.
Cydzik, who believes he arrived at the scene just seconds after the crash, found a male victim already out of the burning vehicle and at a safe distance, but a female victim remained adjacent to the vehicle and in harm’s way.
“I ran up to the car, assessed the situation and spoke to her a little as the flames were consuming the vehicle. It continued to get worse as I was there,” Cydzik said. “I realized she needed to be moved so I pulled her away and up the highway.”
Cydzik, who has been in the Redwood City Police Department for the past five years, said his training immediately kicked in and he didn’t think twice about stopping to help.
“We’re trained to do this. I knew they needed help that day and that’s what I did,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time. Any one of us who wears a uniform would’ve done the same thing I believe that.”
Cydzik preferred to celebrate the six to 10 civilians who also stopped to help rather than himself. Based on his instructions, those people directed traffic on the busy highway with flashlights, provided water and otherwise helped.
“People came out of the woodwork and everything I asked of someone it was like asking my partner,” Cydzik said. “It’s a beautiful thing that people were able to come together to help.”
San Mateo incident
Cosca and Nguyen received a call at about 2:25 p.m. Sept. 9 advising them that Spanish-speaking parents were frantic and asking for help with a choking child, they said. They flipped on their sirens and made it to the scene within three minutes.
“The child was still breathing at the time, but with obvious difficulty. It seemed like he wasn’t expelling air, but he was breathing it in,” Nguyen said. “As a parent myself the fear is he was choking and could lose consciousness. We worked as best as we could to maintain his airway and keep him conscious.”
The two performed a variation on the Heimlich maneuver, placing the child face down on Nguyen’s arm at an angle and performing palm thrusts on his back. They continued administering palm thrusts and evaluating the child, but whatever he was choking on wasn’t coming out.
Within a minute or two, fire and medical personnel arrived at the scene and performed CPR, among other life-saving efforts, Nguyen said. Around the same time Bennett, who speaks Spanish, arrived.
The parents of the choking child were rightfully distraught, the officers said and, until Bennett arrived, communication with them was largely done via hand gestures because of the language barrier.
Bennett learned from the parents it was a grape the child was choking on and was able to relay important medical information to the firefighters and medics, who had taken control of the situation.
He was also able to calm the parents down in the language they understood and instructed them to not accidentally interfere in the emergency response.
The toddler did briefly lose consciousness on the ambulance ride to the hospital, but responders were able to dislodge the grape soon after.
Bennett drove the mother to the hospital and stayed with her there for several hours. Cosca said it was her first time responding to an incident like this.
“It was my first experience on a call like this with a child choking,” Cosca said. “It was a very high-stress situation and I was happy to have my partner beside me. It was training and teamwork and doing the best with what we had, which was each other.”
Police spokesman Officer Michael Haobsh praised his colleagues for their fast response and said the incident highlights the myriad roles of police officers.
“Policing is so much more than just chasing suspects,” he said. “We were first on the scene, we got there super fast, running red lights with sirens on because every minute counts when someone can’t breathe.
“Because they got there so fast and performed [life-saving measures] they were the reason this child is breathing today and will hopefully soon get discharged from the hospital.”
Police recommend calling 911 immediately in such crisis situations and to also learn life-saving techniques to help until first responders arrive.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102