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Man honored for saving the life of noted philanthropist

Tom Smith is given a Lifesaving Coin by TVF&R at Feb. 20 council meeting


by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Tom Smith,right, and TVF&R Division Chief Brian Sherrard, left, speak to the Wilsonville City Council at a presentation to honor Smiths awareness in saving the life of philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer at a Wilsonville Burger King. The man who saved the life of renowned Portland philanthroper Arlene Schnitzer was honored Thursday by officials from Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue who praised his quick thinking and willingness to help a stranger.

Tigard resident Tom Smith works at the Wilsonville Target. He was in the right place at the right time last month to step in when he heard a woman choking behind him in the lunch line at the Wilsonville Burger King at Argyle Square. Although he hadn’t even planned to be in the restaurant when he headed out on lunch break that day, Smith jumped into action and performed the Heimlich maneuver on the woman. His quick action may well have saved her life, said TVF&R Division Chief Brian Sherrard.

“Even while he was uncertain about how to provide the Heimlich, he did what he thought he needed to do,” Sherrard said during a presentation before the Wilsonville City Council Feb. 20. “Remarkably, after helping the woman he returned to work at Target without any fanfare.”

Smith said he simply responded to the situation, and afterward wanted to respect the woman’s privacy during a moment of distress.

“I think that everybody reacts differently,” he told councilors. “Sometimes reacting isn’t the best word. I think we should all learn how to respond to situations more effectively, maybe seeing when people are in trouble or in distress and lending a helping hand. I think all I did was be a good Samaritan and help somebody who was in trouble.”

As it turns out, however, that was definitely not the end of the matter. The woman choking turned out to be Schnitzer, whose namesake concert hall is one of the highlights of the city center.

Smith has since gained widespread recognition around the metro area for his selfless act. And on Feb. 20, Sherrard presented Smith with a certificate of appreciation as well as a Lifesaving Coin on behalf of the fire district.

“In the fire service we present these coins,” Sherrard said. “The origin of the coin goes back to World War I in the military. They’re constructed of materials that signify strength and resilience, and in the military they were given as congratulations to people and signified honor, respect and pride within the community. And for a citizen it represents selflessness and courage above and beyond what would normally be expected of somebody. And saving somebody’s life definitely falls into that category.”

Although Sherrard told the council that Smith’s act is protected under Oregon’s Good Samaritan Law found in Oregon Revised Statute 30.800, that law only provides legal protection for “medically trained persons” as defined under state law.

So Smith actually was at risk of being sued for his actions, and chose to act to save Schnitzer’s life regardless.

“He acted immediately,” Sherrard said, “and went an performed the action and restored the woman’s breathing prior to professional emergency response personnel arriving on the scene.”

Judging by Schnitzer’s response, however, it’s highly unlikely that Smith will receive anything but continued praise for his lifesaving effort.

“I am very sorry that I could not attend tonight,” Schnitzer said in a statement sent to city officials prior to the meeting. “But I am very appreciative that Tom is such an observant person and that he stepped in when he saw a person in need. I want to deeply thank him for saving my life. I am thrilled that Tom is being recognized for his courageous actions.”



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