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Three weeks after a heart attack, Sedona Police Chief Joe Vernier returned to work part-time Monday, May 21. Vernier smiled across a table at Sedona Airport Restaurant on Monday. Vernier’s appearance and positive attitude hadn’t changed, but his outlook on life had.

By Trista Steers
Larson Newspapers
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Three weeks after a heart attack, Sedona Police Chief Joe Vernier returned to work part-time Monday, May 21.

Vernier smiled across a table at Sedona Airport Restaurant on Monday. Vernier’s appearance and positive attitude hadn’t changed, but his outlook on life had.

Loved ones — family and friends — are the most important thing in life, Vernier said. The little things don’t matter, and a near death experience made him realize that.

Vernier now considers April 27 his “other birthday” because on April 27, he got a second chance to live.

While mountain biking on Templeton Trail south of Sedona off Hwy. 179, Vernier had a heart attack. Sedona Fire District crews found Vernier at the highway and transported him to Verde Valley Medical Center where he underwent an angioplasty.

Vernier, who said he just wanted to get some exercise on his late lunch break, was alone.

At first, Vernier said he thought he was experiencing heartburn and it would pass, but as the pain worsened, he became worried.

“There was a piece [of me] that probably realized I was in trouble and needed to call 9-1-1,” Vernier said.

Vernier contacted a dispatcher at Sedona Fire District Regional Communications Center. After talking to dispatch, Vernier said his symptoms subsided, so he got back on his bike and headed for the highway.

While riding, he started to again feel chest pain and said he knew at that moment how important it was for him to get to the road.

“As the attack intensifies, you realize how little control you have over some things in your life,” Vernier said. As a police chief, he said he’s used to having control over a situation.

“In this particular case, I had no say-so,” Vernier said.

SFD Captain Mark Rippy and his crew responded to the call.

“Obviously, we had no idea who it was until we saw him,” Rippy said.

Dispatch told Rippy a mountain biker complaining of chest pain was on Templeton Trail headed toward the trail’s connection with Bell Rock Pathway. Crew members were given a description of what Vernier was wearing and his vehicle, which was parked at the Bell Rock Pathway trailhead.

According to Rippy, he wasn’t sure which way to send crews from the highway because Templeton is on the west side and Bell Rock Pathway on the east. A tunnel under Hwy. 179 connects the trails.

Crew members tried to call Vernier’s cell phone twice but Vernier didn’t answer.

Rippy sent an ambulance and engine to a pull out on the east side of the highway. Construction crews created a small road that went toward Bell Rock Pathway the vehicles were able to pull onto.

SFD firefighter Kirk Harris got on top of the engine with binoculars and spotted Vernier, fitting the description given by dispatch, on the trail about to fall over.

Vernier managed to make it all the way to the Bell Rock Pathway trailhead closest to Sedona. He said he remembers Harris

signaling to him from the top of the engine.

Rippy said he ran up the highway to meet Vernier and found him gripping his chest.

“He could barely even speak,” Rippy said.

Rippy said most people wouldn’t have been able to keep riding after a heart attack.

“He did a great job and stayed composed,” Rippy said. “There’s some hard hills on that [Templeton Trail].”

Crew members got Vernier to the ambulance and then to VVMC quickly.

“It became very clear very quickly they [paramedics] were professionals, they knew what they were doing and I had the best care possible from their hands during my trip to the hospital,” Vernier said.

SFD will now mean something to Vernier on a personal level forever.

“I’ll always look upon the members of the Sedona Fire District as my guardian angels,” Vernier said.

Being on the opposite side of an emergency situation made Vernier appreciate what public safety does in a different way.

“Having been in public safety for such a long time, this is one of these rare cases where I was an end user of the system as opposed to a participant,” Vernier said.

Mountain biking is something Vernier does regularly, along with hiking to mountain tops and jogging. In fact, Vernier ran in a race and went on an extensive hike about a week before his heart attack.

After the incident, Vernier said SPD Cmdr. Ron Wheeler took away his “toys,” including his mountain bike.

Wheeler served as acting chief while Vernier was out. He said things ran smoothly but he’s glad to have Vernier back.

“We are very lucky,” Wheeler said. “SFD was awesome, VVMC was awesome.”

Now, Vernier is taking things slowly. He’s begun exercising again but not the way he was prior to his heart attack, he said.


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