09:38 AM

BFD Captain Credits Fellow Firefighters and Quick Intervention for Saving his Life


“I’m alive because of the firefighters I work with,” said Doug Koffler, 51, captain with the Billings Fire Department. 

While on the scene of a structure fire in March of this year, Koffler felt a little off. “I came out of the structure really hot, sweating and I couldn’t cool off,” he said. “My team picked up that something was wrong. I told them that I just needed to go back and take shower. Thankfully, they didn’t let me.” 

After checking his pulse and doing an initial evaluation at the site, including an EKG (electrocardiogram) the firefighters and paramedics on the scene determined that Koffler was having a heart attack and needed to be rushed to St. Vincent Healthcare. In the case of a heart attack, first responders are able to notify the hospital for an early activation of the heart care team. 

“I was in classic denial,” said Koffler. “During my career, I have taken care of hundreds of folks suffering a heart attack and thought to myself, ‘this couldn’t be happening to me’.” 

When he arrived at St. Vincent, he was immediately evaluated by Dr. Brandon Henckel, interventional cardiologist, and the heart team at St. Vincent. It was determined that Koffler was having a ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) heart attack, or a complete blockage of an artery and the blood flow to the myocardium, the heart muscle. In these cases it is critical to re-open the artery to restore blood flow to the heart to prevent permanent damage. Henckel and his team used a catheter-device to inflate a balloon in Koffler’s artery to clear the blockage. The team also identified another artery with a partial blockage and placed two stents during the procedure to keep those arteries open. 

In the case of a STEMI heart attack, timely identification of symptoms and quick treatment is absolutely critical, as Henckel shared, “time is muscle.” As more time passes from the onset of symptoms, more damage is done to the heart, leading to potentially irreversible damage or even death. In Koffler’s case, his symptoms presented as fatigue, sweating, and discomfort in his back. Thankfully, his team also knew and recognized the symptoms of heart attack and responded quickly. 

Koffler’s timely treatment was also due to St. Vincent Healthcare being an accredited Chest Pain Center by the American College of Cardiology, certifying that it meets national standards for evaluation, diagnosis and treatment during the critical early stages of a heart attack. Henckel shared that being part of this program includes education and continuous improvement in the process of treating patients like Koffler. 


“We are continually comparing our results with national standards and also sharing our best practices with other partners and organizations,” he said. 

St. Vincent’s Chest Pain Center accreditation is one of the many ways the organization lives out its commitment to ensuring Montana and Wyoming residents have access to the highest level of lifesaving care the moment they need it. 

Because of the quick intervention, Koffler is hoping to make a full recovery. He is currently in a cardiac rehab program at St. Vincent, feeling better and getting stronger each week. He even felt well enough this week to help a friend in need fix a damaged bridge on his property due to the current flooding in our area. Koffler will be evaluated by Dr. Henckel and the heart team in July and he hopes to get the green light to get back on the engine and re-join his crew at the Billings Fire Department. 

Committed to a Healthier Community 

Both St. Vincent Healthcare and the Billings Fire Department are supporters of the annual Heart and Sole Run, taking place this Saturday, June 18 in Billings. The proceeds go towards the Billings YMCA and improving the Billings trail system through Billings TrailNet. The Billings Fire Department raises the flag each year at the starting line to kick off the race and St. Vincent Healthcare is a presenting sponsor along with the Billings Gazette. 

Supporting community resources that create a healthier community is essential to supporting heart health and helping those in recovery from a heart attack and other heart conditions, said Henckel.

“Prevention of heart conditions starts with good habits such as regular exercise and a healthy diet,” said Henckel. “Having these community resources accessible helps our community maintain these healthy habits, and also gives people like Doug more opportunities to get back to full health.”IMG_0656