Photo by Mark Pace/Chattanooga Times Free Press — David Thompson Sr., left, talks to Allen Smith and his daughter Bella at a thank you dinner for first responders Oct. 23, 2019 at Station 13 on Brainerd Road. Thompson, a retired fire captain, had a heart attack earlier this summer. Smith was the senior paramedic who arrived on scene.

David Thompson Sr. lay on the floor of an Eastgate Town Center office this summer in a role reversal that was quickly approaching fatal.

The retired fire captain was not breathing and had no pulse.

He was suffering a heart attack.

"I was in a conference room going over charts with one of our employees, and for a lack of better terminology, I fell over dead, plain and simple," Thompson said.

His co-workers at the medical office began CPR until help arrived. First responders with Hamilton County EMS, Chattanooga Police Department and Chattanooga Fire Department rushed to the scene.

Paramedics used a defibrillator and kept the 30-year department veteran alive. He was taken that July day to a local hospital where he received medical attention and quickly began his recovery.

"I woke up in the hospital, and they started telling me everything about it then," he said. "It was hard to believe. It was surreal. I've done this type of call thousands of times as a firefighter ... It was always a routine, but this was the first time I was on the other side."

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Photo by Mark Pace/Chattanooga Times Free Press — Robert Thompson cooks steak at a thank you dinner for first responders Oct. 23, 2019 at Station 13 on Brainerd Road. Thompson's father had a heart attack earlier this summer and wanted to thank first responders.

Fire Chief Phil Hyman, who once worked under Thompson Sr., got word of the incident.

"It was really traumatizing when I heard he had had a heart attack and we lost him," he said. "I'm really glad we have him here today."

David Thompson Jr. — one of three sons who all work for the department — had just gotten home from his shift when he got the call. It was from his uncle, letting him know his dad had just suffered a heart attack. The son hopped in a truck with his chief to head to the scene. By the time they arrived, responders had brought his dad back to life.

"Obviously, like anyone else, I was concerned, worried," he said. "I knew this was a very serious event."

However, Thompson Sr. made an abnormal recovery, according to the first responders.

He was taken to the hospital on a Tuesday in mid-July and was home by that Friday, largely fine, he said. Very few have the quality of life he has had following the incident, said Allen Smith, the senior paramedic who arrived on scene. Typically, those who survive suffer secondary organ failure, have to go through dialysis or have other complications.

"So much of that is because of how quickly [Thompson's colleagues] worked," Smith said.

They had started CPR right away and called for help.

"The idea is, it doesn't have to be perfect," Thompson Sr. said. "Just do something. The only bad CPR is no CPR. Do something. At least do chest compressions. Somebody is going to have a better chance of making it. If you don't do anything, then they don't have any chance at all."

Thompson Sr. wanted to thank the first responders who were responsible for keeping him alive. He gathered his family and hosted a dinner at Station 13 on Brainerd Road Friday night.

He bought steak and potatoes, cooked by his son, Robert, and served those who brought him back to life.

"He's been around the job forever," Thompson Jr. said. "That helped. He understands what we go through and what we deal with. This was his way to thank us."

Contact Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.