Muskegon County lieutenant credited with saving bailiff

Sometimes fate taps you on the shoulder and you’re forced to make a split-second decision.

For Muskegon County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Burns, that moment came two weeks ago.

“It was my turn and it was my time to take action,” Burns told The Muskegon Chronicle ( ) talking about an incident involving a fellow law enforcement officer he’s credited with saving.

Burns is up for a life-saving award from the Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office after performing the Heimlich maneuver on a Muskegon County 14th Circuit Court bailiff, Joe Mahan, a former police officer from the Muskegon Heights Police Department.

Mahan was at a restaurant in Muskegon — Hennessey’s Irish Pub & Restaurant — with his wife having lunch on March 25, when he started choking and stopped breathing.

Burns was having a lunch meeting around the same time at another table. Prior to the choking incident, Burns said he was about to walk over and say ‘hello’ to Mahan, but didn’t want to interrupt his lunch.

The two acknowledged each other and carried on with their respective lunches.

Burns was about to leave soon after his lunch meeting, and started to put on his jacket when he noticed Mahan appeared to be in distress.

“I saw Joe standing up and saw that he was in distress. I yelled to the guy (in the bar) to call 911. Joe had his back turned to me and I started to do the Heimlich maneuver. On the second time, whatever he was eating became dislodged,” Burns said. “I was seriously concerned. I could see that something needed to be done.”

Mahan said he knew that if anyone could help him, it was going to be Burns. He purposefully got his attention.

“I was sitting there eating potato chips. I inhaled while the chips were in my mouth. I tried to clear it out myself and that made it worse. My wife looked at me and said, ‘Are you OK?’ and I said, ‘no.’ I banged on the table to get Mark’s attention and my wife said, ‘Joe’s choking,” he said.

“Mark came up and did the Heimlich about a half dozen times. I know Mark, and we have known each other at least 25 years. I knew he could help. If he wouldn’t have been there, I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe someone else could have done the very same thing.”

Burns said he has some first-aid medical training, but has never had to use it.

“I didn’t ponder at all what to do, although I had never really done that before. It was kind of surreal,” he said. “Anyone could have done it. It was simple, but I hate to think what would have happened if I had walked out before (the choking occurred). I would think, though, that anyone would have done it.”

Mahan was fine following the incident. He actually went back to work at the courthouse after he and his wife paid the bill.

Muskegon County Sheriff Dean Roesler said the actions of Burns will be recognized by the sheriff’s office.

“I’m proud of him. I’m glad he stepped up. His training kicked in and he recognized that that person was in distress and did what he was trained to do,” Roesler said. “The fact that he is a fellow law enforcement officer is kind of cool. I think we are all just very thankful that there was a positive outcome.”

Mahan said he is grateful to have a friend and colleague like Burns and looks forward to his recognition.

“Mark does deserve some recognition for this. At a time now where all you see now is cops on TV… you may hear one out of 10 times of a cop doing something good and cops do something good every day,” Mahan said.

“He deserves an award. He saved my life.”  (AP)

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