Fire Marshals encourage cardiac health and prevention following heart attacks

Kannapolis Fire Marshals Shane Pethel and Don Gray both had heart attacks in their early 50’s.
Kannapolis Fire Marshals Shane Pethel and Don Gray both had heart attacks in their early 50’s.(City of Kannapolis)
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 4:39 PM EST
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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (WBTV) - Kannapolis Fire Marshals Shane Pethel and Don Gray have a lot in common – they are firefighters, have a great sense of humor, love their families – and both had heart attacks in their early 50′s.

For Shane, it was Summer 2018, and the City was having a weekend concert with fireworks, and he had been to the fireworks site to inspect it and ensure everything was properly setup. “I was hot and had put out an electrical box fire and after inspecting the fireworks I felt like I had pulled a muscle in my back. I decided to lay down on the lawn where we had the fireworks setup and just rest for a minute. Eventually, I felt a little better and got into my truck, picked up a coworker and took off to return to City Hall when the back pain returned. My coworker recognized that something besides back pain was happening and took me to urgent care,” Shane recounted.

When doctors examined Shane, they found he was having a heart attack and he had an artery that was 99% blocked. He was transferred to a hospital where he received a stent and was able to go home 48 hours later.

Two years ago, Don had just completed the firefighter’s annual agility test – in eight minutes you run stairs, secure fire hoses, drag test dummies, breach a door, raise a ladder, and ventilate a roof. Once he completed the test Don said, “I could not catch my breath which is usually not a problem for me.” Fellow firefighters helped him get out of his fire gear and began to check his vital signs. The AED heart monitor showed he was having a heart attack. He was transported to the hospital and taken to the cardiac cath lab. “I remember the doctor telling me that I had a 100% blockage of what everyone calls the ‘widow maker’ artery and then everything went lights out.”

Don coded and had to be shocked numerous times by doctors before his heartbeat was restored. He was also given a stent and amazingly was able to go home within 48 hours.

They now jokingly say you cannot work in their office unless you have had a heart attack. But all joking aside both men want you to pay attention to your health.

Looking back Shane had symptoms but ignored them. Shane said, “I had a couple of dizzy spells and light chest pain a couple of months before the heart attack, but I brushed it off as being overheated and tired. Don’s family has a history of cardiac issues, and he knew he had high blood pressure, but he decided to try to take care of it himself with exercise and diet. “I never had any chest pain beforehand.”

“Do not ignore your body and what it is telling you. Get a physical. Tell your doctor about your symptoms even if it may seem like something minor,” Shane further commented.

They feel blessed to have been around people who knew the symptoms of a heart attack, how to quickly respond, and how to get them to hospitals quickly. “Both of us were fortunate to be at work and not somewhere alone. Our coworkers recognized something was wrong and worked quickly to make sure we received immediate care,” Don said.

They are now on medications to prevent any further heart issues and receive regular checkups. “We are fortunate that we are still here and able to enjoy time with our families. We encourage everyone to take time to know the symptoms of a heart attack and to learn CPR.”

Celebrate Heart Month with tips on heart health by visiting

For resources on how you or your group can complete Community CPR and AED training contact Kannapolis Fire staff members Bill Jamieson ( or Lee Goodman ( or 704.920.4283 or