Passenger alive after TSA officers’ heroism at Grand Rapids checkpoint

Monday, March 18, 2024
The TSA checkpoint at Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Jamie Aitken photo)

The day he nearly lost his life, a passenger was fortunate he chose to fly out of Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Shortly before 6 a.m., the passenger arrived at GRR’s TSA checkpoint where TSA Officer Mark Smith greeted him.

While Smith gave the traveler divesting and travel advice, he noticed the gentleman appeared to be out of breath and his condition was rapidly deteriorating. Smith quickly moved to the passenger’s side of the lane and gave the man a chair. 

Aware that fellow TSA Officer Tim Gavin was nearby, Smith called Gavin over to help.

GRR TSA Officer Mark Smith (Jamie Aitken photo)
GRR TSA Officer Mark Smith (Jamie Aitken photo)

“I’ve worked with Tim for several years now and know about his background as a firefighter, so there was no hesitation in going to him for assistance,” said Smith. “It was important for me to stay with the passenger and reassure him he would be alright and that help was coming. Lucky for us, Tim was only about 15 feet away.”

As chance would have it, Gavin’s presence on the checkpoint and background as a first responder saved the passenger’s life.

GRR TSA Officer Tim Gavin at the X-ray. (Jamie Aitken photo)
GRR TSA Officer Tim Gavin at the X-ray. (Jamie Aitken photo)

“I saw Mark move to the passenger side of the rollers, provide the passenger with a chair, and urgently wave me over,” Gavin said. “I then approached the passenger and quickly assessed his vitals when he immediately went from convulsions to unresponsive and no pulse. The passenger was a big guy, but with Mark’s assistance, we were able to move him from the chair to the floor.  As I began to perform CPR, officers from the GRR Police Department arrived with an automated external defibrillator, and together we were able to immediately revive the passenger.”

Gavin started his TSA career in December 2017, at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, before transferring to GRR about a year later. Prior to TSA, he was a firefighter and received his EMT license. Gavin served with the Wright-Tallmadge Township Fire Department for 14 years where he rose to the rank of lieutenant. 

TSA Officer Sheryl Genslak, who recently started her TSA career at GRR, was also on the scene and was impressed by her co-workers’ quick actions.

“I watched Mark and Tim jump into action while the passenger’s complexion went to a deep purple color,” Genslak explained. “Passengers and officers in that immediate area seemed to hold their breath while Tim performed CPR. There was a HUGE shared sigh of relief when the gentleman was revived and became responsive.”

We’re happy to say the passenger survived and returned to the airport a few days later to express his thanks. 

TSA Michigan Federal Security Director Reggie Stephens took note of the heroism, saying, “This isn’t the first life Tim has saved a life at the airport. He assisted GRR first responders in reviving a passenger, who had a drug overdose, at the checkpoint over a year ago. I was really impressed with how the rest of our officers maintained their focus on checkpoint security while Tim and Mark assisted the passenger. Words aren’t adequate to describe what this team means to me, the agency, and the airport.”

By Jamie Aitken, TSA Michigan