TAMPA, Fla. — Firefighters and paramedics save a lot of lives, but on Saturday they saved the life of Tampa General's own 'Santa Claus,' and they didn't know it until they got to the hospital.
"As soon as we got to TGH, they recognized him. They knew who he was. The staff did,” said Captain Jack Attkisson.
When firefighters and paramedics wheeled 60-year-old Delwyn Collins into TGH, the hospital staff recognized him right away.
"Somebody yelled out, 'that's the Christmas Guy!' That was the one thing we heard,” firefighter Michael Rigau said.
Collins works as a Tampa General Hospital dishwasher. But staff there know him as 'Santa Claus.'
"I'm really grateful for all of you guys. You don't really realize it,” Collins said to his rescuers. "You are my hero. You're my lifesaver.”
For 30 years, Collins has spearheaded the hospitals participation in the foster angel program, a toy drive that serves 1,500 foster kids every year.
"Long as I'm still here, I'm still able to do my job, and I'm able to do what I gotta do, I'm going to keep doing,” said Collins.
The first responders, who likely saved his life, are ecstatic to see he's doing so well now.
"We don't get to see patients after, so the fact that he's doing as well as he's doing is truly amazing,” said Tampa Fire Rescue’s Lieutenant David Vinciguerra.
But, it was a different scenario when he was in their ambulance.
"I was driving the rescue and just as we were approaching TGH on the bridge, the patient went into cardiac arrest,” said Captain Attisson.
"Shortly after that is when his heart stopped,” Tampa Fire Rescue’s Lieutenant David Vinciguerra added.
Now, the first responders say Collins will have some more help next Christmas.
"I told him, I said, this Christmas, you find me, this is my name and I'll be there to volunteer,” said Rigau.