Eureka mayor celebrates day firefighters saved her life by visiting local fire stations

Susan Seaman calls March 20 'Glad I'm Not Dead Day'

Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman poses with members of Humboldt Bay Fire on Wednesday, the day she celebrates her life being saved by two Rialto firefighters when she was just a toddler in 1972. (Susan Seaman — contributed)

The newspaper account that appeared in the Rialto Record in the summer of 1972 still makes for riveting reading as it describes the actions of three men who saved the life of a little girl who had wandered into a pool on March 20, 1972.

“While her father, A.L. Bruton, administered artificial respiration, her mother, Madeira Bruton, called the fire department and (Denny) Haynes and (Dick) Pool responded,” the story reads.

“When we arrived, her pupils were pinpoints, there was no pulse, no breathing and she was quite blue and cold,” Haynes told the paper. “Dick took over for her father and gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and I assisted and as soon as Dick started, she responded.”

The little girl who responded to those life-saving efforts is all grown up and she spent Wednesday morning going to the five Humboldt Bay Fire stations. She didn’t just go as a regular citizen, she made those visits as Eureka Mayor Susan Seaman.

Seaman was saved that spring day in Southern California and the Rialto Record reported the incident as a fully recovered 2-year-old Seaman visited the two men who had saved her life.

Those two firefighters are both now gone but in their memory and in the memory of what they did that day, Seaman decided she would celebrate in her own way. She said she marks every March 20 as “Glad I’m Not Dead Day.”

“I toured all the firehouses and it was just a part of my process, it was a way to honor the work they do,” Seaman said Thursday, adding she was a bit shy at first. For her initial visit she just dropped off some bagels, said thank you and “ran off.”

“I still struggle sometimes knowing the power I have with the position (as mayor) and I’m still a little uncomfortable at times,” Seaman said. “At the next firehouses, I stopped to take some pictures and, in my mind, I didn’t want to make it a big deal but I wanted them to be recognized. I’m glad it’s a very rare occurrence that they have to save a drowning child.”

A newspaper clipping from the Rialto Record shows a 19-month-old Susan Bruton (Seaman) meeting the two men, Denny Haynes and Dick Pool, who saved her life after she fell into a pool. (Susan Seaman — contributed)

Seaman said she lost contact with Pool and Haynes during her school years, but after she graduated college, she sent both men an announcement “saying this is what I did with the life you saved.”

“When I got married, Richard Pool came to my wedding, signed the guest book and gave us a hand mixer as a gift,” she said. “The hand mixer never worked but I kept it for 10 years.”

Pool left the wedding before the reception and that was the last contact between the two according to Seaman. The article in the Rialto Record does provide a glimpse into his feelings about being able to save Seaman that summer day.

“It’s the second award I’ve been given,” Pool told the paper in 1972, after he and Haynes were given Red Cross Certificates of Merit. “The first was when Susan started showing signs of life.”

The incident happened while Seaman and her mother were spending a spring day in the home’s backyard. Seaman’s mother, who was sitting under the family’s Mulberry tree, became preoccupied with a letter reporting the death of one of her nieces from cancer. That sad news was enough to distract mom and, at one point, Seaman ended up in the water, pulled from the pool by her father who began life-saving efforts.

At that time, CPR was just becoming mainstream as a way to revive those who had stopped breathing. Seaman said when the firefighters mentioned using the technique to her parents, they were fully behind trying anything to save her.

“That was a bad day for my mom,” Seaman said. “When I think back as a mom, I can’t even imagine how terrible that day was. My dad pulled me from the pool and started some type of mouth-to-mouth providing some breath and the firefighters said it definitely helped the situation.”

The idea to honor local firefighters came when Seaman said she pulled down a box of old letters and the story in the paper fell out. That spurred her to reach out locally — a gesture that means a lot to Humboldt Bay firefighters.

“To actually meet people you have had that effect upon, that’s remarkable,” Chief Sean Robertson said. “I have spoken to her before about the incident and she sent me a cutting of the original newspaper story and we talked about it when I was conducting an orientation for her after she was elected mayor. She has a really personal connection to firefighters and she knows what our value is.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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