By Kevin McKeough
Having spent 13 years working as a psychiatric nurse, Drew Wilson, RN, now an operating room nurse at Rush University Medical Center, is used to responding quickly to volatile situations. Wilson’s instinct to help people and act decisively recently led him to help rescue residents trapped by an early-morning fire in an apartment building across the street from his home in Hobart, Indiana.
The fire occurred at 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, while Wilson was getting ready for work. “I heard explosions and looked out the window, and I saw flames coming out of the bottom building,” he says.
Wilson ran out the door to see if he could help and discovered that the fire already had spread to the apartment building’s stairs, causing residents on the second floor to jump from the building. He and another onlooker helped catch one man, and then he grabbed hold of the feet of a man hanging from the windowsill and helped lower him to the ground.
Wilson then went to the back of the building to check on other residents and saw two men sitting in their windows. “They were bigger guys, and if they had jumped they would have been hurt,” he says.
He got a ladder off the nearby truck of one of the men he’d just helped, put it against the building and held it while the men climbed down. “By that time the fire was shooting out the roof of the building,” Wilson says. “The heat wasn’t so bad at that point, but the explosions were unnerving.”
The explosions were caused by oxygen tanks in the apartment of a resident whose smoking started the fire. The two-story building was destroyed, leaving eight families homeless.
Wilson admits he was scared, but felt he had to respond. “There were people in trouble who needed help, so I just reacted,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine letting them stay up there.”
Wilson has worked at Rush since 1991, first in the inpatient psychiatric unit and then in the operating room. His colleagues say his response to the fire reflects the way he does his job.
“He responds quickly,” says Pam Berda, RN, nurse clinician, orthopedic spine surgery. “When the surgeons need something that isn’t under the normal purview of setting up for a case or they want him to do something, he does it immediately.”
Berda and Leslie Wirtz, RN, BSN, unit director for the operating room, also praise Wilson’s dedication to patients, whether it’s making sure to take the time to talk to them before their surgery or attending to their needs after extubation.
“He’s very patient focused, which is typical of the selflessness of our nurses. They all put the patient first,” Wirtz says. “It’s the same with his actions that morning. He was thinking about those people.”