Chelsea Cunningham, Fort Belvoir Primary teacher, center left, and Lindsay Fazendine, her educational assistant, were awarded with Lifesaving Awards by Fort Belvoir Fire Chief Kevin Good, left, on June 8, for immediately responding and delivering CPR on a 3-year old toddler who was choking on food. Good said choking is a leading cause of unintentional death in children, especially under the age of five.

Readiness saves lives.

The latest example comes from Fort Belvoir Primary School, where a pre-k class was finishing up a lockdown drill, May 31, to keep students and teachers prepared in case there is a threat in the building. Lindsey Fazendine, an instructional assistant, tells the Eagle she was reopening the blinds in her classroom after the exercise, while the children had already begun eating snacks.  

“I noticed a 3-year-old student walking towards me. And he appeared that he wasn't breathing. I initially thought that he had just been startled when he tripped and fell a moment before, but he continued not to breathe. Then, when I approached him, he fell back and was starting to turn blue,” Fazendine said.

The teacher, Chelsea Cunningham, had noticed the child was crying, but also thought he was upset over tripping. She said she couldn’t see his facial expression from behind – then he fell backward.

“That's when I jumped up and grabbed him. I hit him on the back several times. And when that was not getting it dislodged, I quickly flipped him upright and did the Heimlich maneuver on him,” Cunningham said. “That's when it either came out or went back down, and he started to get his color back.”

According to For Belvoir Fire and Emergency Services, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under the age of 5; resulting in 1 child dying every 5 days by choking on food. Fire Chief Kevin Good said that children under the age of 5 are at greatest risk for choking injury and death.

“The child was caught before hitting the floor, preventing further injury, and the teachers immediately recognized the severe airway obstruction and began life-saving measures to clear the child’s airway prior to the arrival of first responders,” said Good.

In a brief ceremony in the Fort Belvoir Primary School classroom where it happened, with Principal Margo Pareja looking on, Chief Good and the Engine 465 team that responded that day presented the two teachers with Life Saving Awards for their heroic actions.

“Through their actions, these exemplary public servants displayed selfless service to our community that are in keeping with the highest traditions of public service and reflect great credit upon themselves, Fairfax County Public Schools and the Department of the Army,” Good read aloud from the award citation.

“Everyday actions, including learning CPR and other lifesaving skills make our community more resilient to saving lives,” said Good.

Cunningham said after he resumed breathing, he wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her and would not let go.

“He had his arms wrapped around me like a little koala bear and he’s not letting go, so we got up and went to the nurse’s station, while we waited for the paramedics to arrive. She said because of the training, there was no decision, only action.

“These kids are like our own in a certain way, so I guess ‘mother instinct’ just kicked in, and we did what we needed to do.”

Fazendine agreed that it happened so fast, the emotional shock didn’t take over until the moment was resolved, and everyone was safe.

“We were all scared, but everybody went home that day,” said Fazendine.

Readiness and training can indeed provide a safe, secure and healthy environment to live, work, play - and learn.


By Paul Lara, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs Specialist