Health & Wellness

FDNY Fire Marshal Commander Saved By Off-Duty Police Officer, Firefighters

Sean Carlin

April 5, 2023

Pictured (left to right): Tom Keane, CJ Kanelopoulos, Steve Lawlor, and Bob Peterson. Photo was taken at the gym where the emergency occured and in front of the AED that was used.

A New York City fire marshal commander is recovering after being saved by a Bedford (NY) police officer, a Yonkers (NY) fire captain, and a retired FDNY firefighter, who successfully performed CPR on him when he collapsed while playing basketball last month.

CJ Kanelopoulos, 49, had just come off the court at St. Joseph's gym in Bronxville, NY, on March 6 and was drinking water when he passed out on the court. Retired FDNY Firefighter Bob Peterson, Bedford Police Officer Tom Keane, and Yonkers Fire Captain Steve Lawlor were also playing basketball. They rushed to his side, where they found Kanelopoulous unconscious.

"We made our way over to him and he was on his side and struggling to breathe. Someone yelled out for an AED and we told the other guys to call 911," Keane said, adding that he stopped breathing while they were putting the AED pads on him. "It advised a shock right away, Bobby hit the button, CJ's whole body jumped, and while we were doing compressions Bronxville PD came in. Around that time, you could actually see CJ starting to come out of it."

After local police officers and EMS workers arrived, Kanelopoulos started to come around. He even tried to remove the oxygen mask on his face.

"I apparently passed out ... and the next thing I remember is them wheeling me around in the stretcher, and I was like 'OK, OK, I'm good, I'm good, I just passed out," Kanelopoulos said. "They were like, 'No, you didn't pass out, we had to do CPR and shock you,' because I was trying to get up."

Kanelopolous was ultimately discharged from the hospital on March 9 with two stents after he was found to have 95 percent and 90 percent blockages in two arteries. While he's not back to work yet as he undergoes tests, he's made time to thank the men who jumped into action when he went down.

"We know each other, and it's just crazy. Of all people, he's a basketball player, 49 years old and goes down." Peterson said. "He came by the gym the next week after it happened to say thank you, and he looks great."

Lawlor said the incident underscores the need to have AEDs in public spaces so that when tragedy strikes, those who know CPR and how to use the devices can put them to work without delay.

"The main thing we really need to stress is that we need to have that AED on the wall," Lawlor said. "Half of the guys there said they didn't even know where it was or what it was. It was really what saved him."

While he's on the mend, Kanelopolous said he's reached out to those who saved him in the gym and can't thank them enough for using their training and skills to give him a second chance at life.

"Thank god that those guys were with me and they helped me out and saved my life," Kanelopolous said. "I owe them a gratitude that can never be repaid."

Sean is a Content Writer at NEP Services and has been a career firefighter for the Cherry Hill (NJ) Fire Department since 2016. Prior to his hiring in Cherry Hill, he was a journalist for the New Haven (Conn.) Register and The Associated Press in its Philadelphia bureau. His work has also appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and on the website Sean holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and political science from Temple University and is starting a Master of Public Administration program in Fall 2022 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government.