LEWISTON — Warren Akell watched as his 76-year-old brother-in-law, Alan Baxter of Turner, struggled with a big piece of firewood and toppled to the ground.

“I saw his eyes roll back in his head,” said Akell, 65, of Jay. “He was out. Then I saw he wasn’t breathing and he wasn’t responding. I said, ‘Uh-oh. This isn’t good.’ I started CPR right off the bat.”

On that day — Nov. 12, 2013 — Akell saved a life.

And on Tuesday morning, Akell was among five individuals and four public safety departments honored by the United Valley American Red Cross at its annual Real Heroes Breakfast at the Ramada Inn.

The charity awarded framed certificates and medals to Pawel Kruszewski of Auburn, who pulled three people to safety from a burning vehicle; Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, who has spoken openly about his battles with post-traumatic stress disorder and has helped veterans in Maine’s courts and jails; and to Hallie Twomey of Auburn, who has raised thousands of dollars for the New England Donor Bank and organizes an annual blood drive in memory of her son, C.J. Twomey, who committed suicide four years ago.

Also honored were Andrew Bilodeau, a 15-year-old Lewiston boy who pulled 7-year-old Jacob Conary from the Androscoggin River last July, and the Lewiston and Auburn fire and police departments. Their award was given for efforts to fight the rash of catastrophic downtown fires that ignited last spring.

“To have three major fires in one week’s time — and on top of that our firefighters were faced with a 30-acre brush fire in that same period — really tested our resources and our will,” Lewiston fire Chief Paul LeClair said in a videotaped message. “It challenged our stamina. It challenged our community.”

The award was presented by Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, Lewiston’s former fire chief, who embraced LeClair on stage.

“I have never seen Lewiston and Auburn come together as a community like they did during the event,” Lajoie said as the Ramada Inn crowd stood and applauded.

The crowd also praised Bilodeau, who was given the Red Cross’s Youth Lifesaving Award.

When the event ended, he stood quietly wearing his medal as family members took photo after photo. He said he was happy for the attention, but downplayed what he did, pulling the boy from the river.

“I saw the top of his head out of the water,” Andrew said. He carried the boy to the riverbank. “He was completely limp. We thought he’d drowned.”

Andrew’s father, Rene, began CPR. Minutes later, emergency workers arrived and the boy awoke.

Alan Baxter’s own happy ending followed similarly tense moments for his brother-in-law, Akell.

The men had been hauling wood when Baxter collapsed. Akell administered CPR while yelling to his wife to call for help. But she couldn’t hear him for long seconds.

“I was trying to reach for my phone in my pocket, but my hands were busy,” he said. Finally, he whistled and she heard.

About eight minutes later, Jay police officer Russell Adams arrived with a portable defibrillator

“He just opened him up and zapped him a couple of times,” Akell said.

Baxter’s heart restarted. Two days later, he underwent bypass surgery.

“There was no damage,” Baxter said.

He also has no memory of his most precarious moments.

“I don’t even remember driving up to his house,” he said. “The memory gets erased in a trauma like that. It’s what I’m told.”

His appreciation remains.

“Everything fell into place perfectly,” Baxter said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: