Throughout his career, Phil Matteson had seen countless cases of stroke onset. That’s how he knew exactly what was happening to him on a May morning in 2010, days before his 51st birthday. He was combing his hair when his hand suddenly stopped moving. Luckily for Phil, his wife was home and called 911. Referring to the Basic and Advanced Life Support structure of emergency medical care, Phil explained, “BLS arrived first, then ALS. They blew county protocols out of the water.” He would know; Phil is assistant chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) in the San Benito- Monterey Unit. He was ultimately transported by CALSTAR helicopter to Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose.
Word of Phil’s incident spread like wild fire among local agencies. An extrovert with an otherwise sharp sense of humor, Phil chokes up when he recalls the dozens of firefighters and police officers gathered at the hospital alongside his wife, five adult kids, seven grandchildren, and extended family.
“I knew what was happening around me and that hardest part was watching my family. It’s always been Grandpa’s and Dad’s job to fix things, and I can’t fix this. You have no control,” Phil said. Doctors administered the clot-dissolving drug tPA and performed a successful surgery that had Phil walking and talking the next day. His hospital stay was just three days, and he was back to work within three months.“Retirement was out of the question,” said the 35-year fire service veteran.
“Being a firefighter is what I always wanted to do. There was no slowing down.” In addition to his leadership role with the largest fire department in California, Phil is Deputy Incident Commander of one of only 10 Cal Fire Incident Command Teams deployed to wildland fires and other natural disasters throughout the state.
While he required no formal rehabilitation, Phil spent his time in recovery resting at home, detached from auxiliary stresses. Back on the job, radio traffic in the background, Phil remarks, “I’m walking, talking proof that stroke centers work. I’m aware of the disabilities I could have had.”