Woman Overcomes Tumor To Become Columbus, Ohio Firefighter

As flames climbed the wall and spread across the bedroom ceiling of a vacant house on Cleveland Avenue in Linden, Trina McCoy's heart raced.


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- As flames climbed the wall and spread across the bedroom ceiling of a vacant house on Cleveland Avenue in Linden, Trina McCoy's heart raced.

Gripping a 200-foot-long hose that shoots water with such force that it requires two people to control it, she helped direct the spray side to side.

But the flames grew.

Sweating under 60 pounds of fire gear in a smoky room that was the temperature of a barbecue grill, she aimed the hose toward burning plywood that covered a second-story window. The force blew the board onto the porch roof.

Water sprayed from the window onto the sidewalk below. The flames spread, and McCoy aimed for the ceiling again, just as she had been taught.

As the flames diminished, she grinned.

``This is what it's all about,'' she thought.

As a 46-year-old black woman and a divorced mother of two teenagers, she knew she wasn't the average recruit - and that she would have to overcome challenges to achieve her goal of becoming a Columbus firefighter.

But her dream seemed impossible 18 months ago. During a break at the academy with her original recruit class, her head began to throb. When an instructor asked her her name, she stared at him, unable to answer.

Frightening diagnosis

McCoy was eight weeks into her training on Jan. 27, 2003, when she blacked out in the academy cafeteria.

``I remember (fellow recruit) Danny Thompson was talking to me, but I couldn't talk back,'' she said.

Doctors would later tell her she had a seizure. Those with her that day said she sat in a chair, unable to respond to their questions.

Paramedics rushed her to Grant Medical Center, where doctors that day found a benign brain tumor the size of a golf ball.

``That was the worst day of my life. It really was,'' McCoy said. ``I was so embarrassed. I felt like a failure, like I had let everyone down.''

Everything about the job - saving people and their property, the excitement and rush of fighting fires, even the 24-hour shifts - appealed to her.

She had tired of her job as an administrative assistant at Ohio State University and applied to the academy three times before she achieved test scores necessary to be accepted, in 2002.

As it seemed her life was spinning out of control because of the tumor, she found comfort in her hospital care and the support she received from both her family and her new colleagues, many of whom she hadn't yet met.

Doctors prescribed medication that made her feel drunk and scheduled surgery for late February 2003.

Word of her situation spread through the Fire Division. On the day of her operation, about 70 uniformed firefighters gathered on the street below her hospital room in silent solidarity with her.

``I feel so blessed and so loved,'' McCoy said.

Painstaking recovery

Doctors removed the tumor, and while McCoy's physical recovery looked promising, her financial situation looked bleak.

As a recruit employed by the city for just two months, she lacked enough sick days to recover while continuing to be paid. She feared she could lose her job and her house.

That's when the family of firefighters stepped up again.

Days after McCoy's surgery, a group of them asked City Council to let them donate time off to McCoy. Council members unanimously agreed, and 132 firefighters gave up four hours each, amounting to 13 weeks.

``In the fire department, we all stick together,'' recruit Chris Kirchner said at the time.

At home, McCoy slept a lot under the watchful eye of her older sister, Pat Broadnax of Columbus. When friends and strangers would stop by, McCoy would cover her cropped hair and the horseshoe-shape scar it revealed.

McCoy had difficulty remembering things. She couldn't recall the date of her seizure or surgery, for instance, but Broadnax filled in the blanks. McCoy became restless at home; she missed her morning runs and driving a car. She wanted a haircut, to go to church and be back at the academy.

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