To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Last month, in part one of this column, we looked at some history involving firefighter deaths and injuries that occurred in live-fire training exercises, followed by Wisconsin Firefighter Candace Wetter’s account of how she became another victim of live-fire training. My sincere thanks to Firefighter Wetter for sharing this story and passing on the details so that we have a chance to learn.
This continues “The worst day of my life” – A personal account by Firefighter Candace Wetter:
As the room flashed, my mind flashed also, but with the thoughts and pictures of my Dad, Mom and two little sisters and how I was never going to see them ever again. I also thought that I am going to die at 19 years old at a training burn. I am a very stubborn and bull-headed individual. I guess you could say the will to survive and to just stop burning is what pushed me to just keep pulling, to just get out, and to stop the burning. I got to the third step and gave one final pull on my nozzleman’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and got him up the stairs.
I landed on my back and then rolled onto my stomach. At this point, I turned left. Some would wonder why I did not go out the door we had entered in on the Charlie side. Your guess is as good as mine as to why I chose to go out a window. The best answer I can give you is that I was scared. I just wanted to get out. There was a penny-sized piece of my mask that hadn’t been burned yet, so I caught the light from the window out of the left corner of my eye. I didn’t see any light from the door we entered the window because it was full of smoke from top to bottom.
I kept crawling and sweeping my arm, trying to find our way out, hoping to God this would stop. We then bailed out of a window. I landed on the ground and started crawling away from the structure, trying to stop the burning. I just wanted it to stop.
Someone came running up to me and began cutting my gear off. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Where’s my crew, where’s my crew?” My best friends, my crew, people I lived with, ate dinner with, went to school with, were still missing and I had no idea where they were. My brothers, those who I shared an incredible bond with were gone. I thought they were dead. I knew I was responsible for whatever happened to them. I was officer of that crew; it was my job to look over them. And I had failed.
I have an assistant chief on my department, who I not only look up to, but want to be exactly like him because of the person he is. He is fair, respectful and truly cares about everyone. He has been one of the most influential persons in my life and career. He was with us that day, not on our hoseline, but watching from the outside.
I cannot imagine the agony he has gone through, watching as his firefighters literally fought for their lives. He was the first person who came up to me who I recognized. I kept asking him if everyone made it out, where was everybody, what happened. He told me that everyone was out, everyone was OK. As I was being loaded into the ambulance, my best friend and third man on the hoseline, came up to me crying, he grabbed my hand and said, “Candace, I’m so sorry.” They put me in the back of an ambulance and starting heading toward the hospital.
At the hospital
I had first- and second-degree burns, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. Burns to my ears, face, chin, arms and hands. The left side of my body was affected and burnt more because of the way I was positioned when I was pulling the nozzleman out. The nozzleman had a penny-sized, first-degree burn on his shoulder from where my hand was when I was pulling him out.
One of the hardest phone calls I have ever had to make was to my mother that day. As I was lying in a hospital bed, with burn doctors looking over me and nurses running everywhere, I was trying to find the words to tell my mother what had happened and that I desperately needed them. I could not finish that phone call without breaking down, crying multiple times. Needless to say, they were on the road, driving to where I was within minutes of receiving that call.