Firefighter suffers major heart attack at fire scene

SAN JOSE, Calif.

The veteran firefighter had been inside Saint Patrick Cathedral battling the fire. He collapsed outside shortly before noon and was quickly surrounded by fellow firefighters offering help. Doctors say he suffered a cardiac event. "We don't know the circumstances behind it, but again, with the tremendous heat and smoke inside there, the doctors can determine why it happened," San Jose Fire Capt. Mary Gutierrez told ABC7 News.

Before Ryan collapsed, firefighters had already knocked down the fire. The response had been textbook. Crews arrived one minute after the first call for help. Some people inside the church had to run to escape the flames. "I go inside the church and the flames is too high already, up to the ceiling already. So, I tried to use the fire extinguisher but I was unable to do it," cathedral work Mie Nguyen reacalled.

Firefighters say the thick smoke billowing from the building created blackout conditions inside the structure. The three-alarm fire also triggered an automatic evacuation of Saint Patrick's School. 320 students were taken out of class. "We went through process of evacuating and getting all of them out within a few minutes," Pastor Peter Loi Huynh said.

Arson investigators are working with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to determine how the fire started. Even that though is secondary to firefighters who are worried about Ryan and knowing they can't all be with him. "We're struggling. We're struggling and that's to be anticipated. We're all struggling, but what's important to know is that we're going to carry on. If we get another fire right now, this same crew, we're going to be at that fire and we're going to go to work. That's how we do things," Gutierrez said.

About 20 firefighters gathered Thursday evening at San Jose Regional Medical Center where Ryan remains in serious but stable condition.

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