Alex Finter figured the highlight of his nighttime police ride-along was watching cops round up suspected gang members - that is, until the Mesa city councilman wound up saving a woman's life.
Finter's rescue followed an action-packed night with a SWAT officer who made high-risk warrant arrests. Finter wanted to see for himself the city's public safety efforts, but he found himself thrust into the role while heading back to a police substation at the end of the shift.
A call came into the car of SWAT officer Justin Organ, informing fire and police vehicles that a 31-year-old woman had stopped breathing.
A computer display in Organ's vehicle showed he and Finter were blocks from where the call came from, placing them much closer than any fire units. Organ decided to respond and arrived at the home within 30 seconds.
Organ and Finter were directed to a bedroom where the woman's distraught mother was attempting CPR. Finter, a retired firefighter of 24 years, walked toward the unresponsive woman.
"He slid in there, told the mother he'd take over, began doing chest compressions," Organ said.
Finter quickly realized how grim the woman's condition was.
"She was absolutely not alive," he said. "No breathing, no pulse, not anything."
The parents assumed the worst.
"Mom said, ‘Oh, she's gone. She's gone.'" Finter said. "And I said, ‘Oh, don't say that yet.'"
Within two minutes of Finter performing chest compressions, the woman began breathing.
"He just stepped in there and was calm and collected," Organ said. "It seemed like all his training and experience took over."
Firefighters arrived within minutes and brought the woman, who has a history of breathing problems, to a hospital.
Finter's revived hundreds of patients but this time was different.
After a career of performing CPR that involved chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth, Finter used a new technique that uses only rapid chest compressions.
The method requires 100 chest compressions a minute. To ensure the compressions are fast enough, those who perform it are taught to keep pace with the rapid beat of the Bee Gees' Staying Alive.
"I actually did that," Finter said. "(But) I wasn't signing out loud."
The new technique came out well after Finter retired 11 years ago, but he'd read about it online. This was the first time Finter used it, and he said the woman responded better than most of the patients he'd administered old-fashioned CPR to.
Finter seemed embarrassed when city employees recognized his lifesaving effort, and he tried to brush aside any credit. Finter said he's amazed at increased efficiencies and new technologies, from updated defibrillators to mapping software in vehicles.
"I was only a small, little piece of that," Finter said. "This isn't about me because I've literally done CPR hundreds of times in my life."
Mesa switched from traditional CPR in 2006, abandoning a method that required giving a patient two breaths followed by 30 chest compressions. The new approach, called minimally interrupted cardio cerebral resuscitation, calls for 100 compressions a minute for two minutes.
In the past, traditional CPR revived less than 3 percent of Mesa patients whose heart had stopped, said Mesa fire Capt. Dave Silides. The compression-only method more than tripled that, with a revival rate of more than 10 percent.
The compression-only method has likely helped save lives when emergency responders aren't the first to reach a person, Silides said.
Dispatchers at Mesa's 911 center advise people how to attempt reviving a person before paramedics arrive, and callers are relieved to know they aren't being asked to breathe in another person's mouth.
"That's a thing that's been hugely noticed," Silides said. "Before it was like, ‘Hey, I don't know this person.' It's pretty straightforward and people are pretty comfortable compressing the chest rather than breathing for them."