A sudden illness took the life of a young State Road volunteer firefighter this week, and his father took time Friday afternoon to reflect on this third-generation public servant’s life as he prepared to say his final goodbyes.
Nineteen-year-old Dustin Bobbitt has served in the fire service since he joined State Road Volunteer Fire Department as a junior firefighter at age 14, and his sense of service and helping others was something he learned from his father, Eddie Bobbitt, and his grandfather.
“He was raised up with me being in it,” said Eddie Bobbitt. “It was all he ever knew. I was a member of a rescue squad or fire department since before he was born.
“He had a heart for helping other people. He always told me, ‘Daddy, you raised me right, I want to get out and help people just like you’ve shown me how to do.’”
Dustin’s death came unexpectedly for the Bobbitt family. He’d complained of a cough and chalked it off to a winter cold, but when he started having trouble breathing, his father told him he needed to get to the emergency room. So at 7 a.m. Wednesday, Dustin went to Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital, where he was told after x-rays that he had double pneumonia.
Then other tests showed abnormal results, and a CT Scan enabled doctors to see multiple blood clots in his lungs. “They stopped counting at 20,” Bobbitt said.
Doctors are uncertain what caused the clots, according to Bobbitt, and they suggested he and his other children be tested for blood clot disorders, but due to Dustin’s quick turn for the worse, doctors had no chance to test him for a disorder.
Bobbitt also said doctors reported Dustin’s heart was enlarged, which may or may not have been caused by drinking energy drinks, something he said his children will never do again and that he will tell everyone he knows not to drink them.
“I don’t want to see anyone else have to go what through I’m going through,” Bobbitt said.
During Dustin’s visit to the Elkin hospital, he coded a little after 1 p.m., Bobbitt said, with hospital staff doing CPR for two and a half hours trying to revive him.
“I’ve been in the medical field a long time, and I saw two things happen that day that was a first for me,” he said. One of those things was such a lengthy time for doing CPR on a patient.
The hospital staff put what Bobbitt called a thumper, which automatically does compressions, on Dustin and loaded him on AirCare’s helicopter with CPR in progress, which Bobbitt said he has never seen occur. Typically, AirCare doesn’t transport patients undergoing active CPR.
“Once they got him down [to Wake Forest Baptist Hospital], they put him on a heart and lung bypass machine,” he said, explaining the hope was that the clots would dissolve and his heart would start back up, but it didn’t. “He faded away on us.”
From a young age, Dustin had been an active servant to his community. Bobbitt said until recently, Dustin had been a member of Mountain Park Rescue Squad. In June of 2016, Dustin graduated from Elkin High School where he’d been a cadet with the JROTC program and a member of the wrestling team. He also was a former member of the Bikers for Kids organization of which Bobbitt was an organizing officer.
“He’s the kind of person who if he’s riding up the street and sees someone with a flat tire, he’s going to stop and help you,” said Bobbitt.
Dustin worked for Asplundh Tree Company as a groundsman, spending most of his time feeding a wood chipper. “He had an active job, it’s not like he was sitting around. That was the one thing the doctors asked. If he’d had issues or been bedridden, they could see clots, but with him being an active 19-year-old kid, they don’t see where they came from,” said Bobbitt.
He said having so much medical experience through fire and rescue service didn’t help Bobbitt deal with Dustin’s situation any better, if anything it wasn’t a good thing. “I told the doctors, ‘I want you to be straight up, don’t pull the wool over my eyes. I want to know exactly what’s happening,’” he said. “Moments before he coded, I was standing in the room with him and looking at the monitor and I watched his blood pressure go down, his heart rate shoot up and his oxygen saturation drop like running water.
“I kissed him on the forehead and stepped out so they could intubate him, and before I could leave the room, he was in snoring respirations. I watched him fade, but I had expectations that they were going to intubate him and he’d sleep a few days and we’ll be good. Probably five or 10 minutes later, it went so fast, someone stepped outside the room to tell me they had CPR in progress,” recalled the father.
Bobbitt said he never realized how much of an impact Dustin’s life had had on the people around him. “I will say that I’m blown away by not really realizing what kind of impact he’d made on this community. I’ve had people that I had no clue he was friends with and I’ve been told throughout this he touched a lot of people, and the ones he didn’t touch somehow or another I have, so they associate with me.
“The biggest thing I can say is he had a very, very giving heart. He left this world with a desire to help his fellow man, and I think that he would have made a huge impact if his life would’ve had a chance to go on,” said Bobbitt. “But with that being said, the people of this community and this area have shown more love and compassion than I ever thought was possible. I know this area is a great place, I’ve lived here since 2005, but I had no clue. It’s just amazing.”
A message was sent to Bobbitt Friday that a black ribbon has been placed around the neck of the Elk statue at Elkin High’s football field in honor of Dustin. He said that was a huge honor.
Several months ago, when a young firefighter lost his life in a fire in Pineville, Bobbitt said it touched Dustin so much that he dressed in his Class A uniform and drove to the funeral to pay his respects, even though he didn’t know the man.
“It was that day he came home and said, ‘Daddy, if anything ever happens to me, make sure I get a firefighter’s funeral.’ Little did I know months later I’d be planning a fireman’s funeral for my son,” he said.
Members of State Road Fire Department have taken the reins to make sure Dustin gets the firefighter’s funeral he requested, which was held Sunday and included a fire truck escort from Elkin Funeral Service to Crestwood Memorial Gardens. The service also included firefighter’s rites by the Mount Airy Honor Guard and a final call of his fire number, 7943, from Surry County 911 Communications.
“I didn’t realize how much of a footprint he’d placed on this area. It makes me proud,” Bobbitt said.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.