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.


On May 27, 2003, three months after her surgery, her doctor cleared her to work again. Her dizziness and fatigue had subsided.

Her classmates had moved on, and she had missed so much training that her instructors didn't know where to put her. So they assigned her to classroom work to keep her busy. They knew she'd have to repeat the 32-week training months later.

It was like the first day in a new school. She didn't know anyone, and the only available seat was in the front of the room.

While she sat in class, her original group was outside practicing with engines, hoses and fire.

``Man, I can't wait to do that,'' she said, watching from the curb as they ran in and out of a training house.

Weeks later, as her original class was about to graduate from the academy, she stood at the back of the auditorium handing out programs for the event.

She cried.

``That was the hardest thing I had to sit through,'' she said.

Fresh start

McCoy spent the next five months entering accident reports into a computer.

It was desk work, and she hated it. But she put on a happy face because it meant a job until the next class started in December 2003.

Much of the classroom work was a repeat for her, but 10 months after her surgery, McCoy struggled to comprehend what she read. Her instructors worried that the work would be too difficult.

``We didn't know what to expect,'' Lt. Greg Howard said.

But she used every available moment _ lunch breaks, moments between classes and weekends _ to reread chapters two and three times.

Her medication appeared to be holding her back, so she stopped taking the pills midway through training, and her test scores improved.

By May, McCoy had received her first taste of staged fires.

In one scenario, McCoy's squad raced across the academy parking lot in a ladder truck to a basement fire.

McCoy jumped out, grabbed the hose and helped haul it into the house.

After another crew found the source of the fire in the basement, recruits gathered for a critique by Capt. Chris Blair.

``Why aren't there any ladders up?'' he asked.

``It's a basement fire,'' one recruit said.

``So, if anyone is upstairs and gets caught, what will you do?'' Blair asked.

Silence.

``You're a ladder company; do your job,'' he said. ``Just because the homeowner tells (dispatchers) the fire could be in the basement, it doesn't mean that it is.''

Howard added, ``Mistakes are going to be made. Let's make them here.''

McCoy walked away, nodding.

``That's fine for me because that's the way I can learn,'' she said. ``I've never done this before.''

Multiple roles

The physical and mental strain of becoming a firefighter is only part of McCoy's life.

Her daughter, Brittney, turned 18 on July 11 and graduated last month from Westerville North High School, where McCoy's 14-year-old son, Michael, will start 10th grade this fall.

During Brittney's graduation ceremony, McCoy waited almost 3 1/2 hours for her daughter's name to be called and then jumped with excitement, screaming her name.

Home is where McCoy has control. Shoes are left at the door. There's not a dish in the sink in her immaculate 5-year-old house.

McCoy said she's not overly strict but taught her children ``right from wrong.'' They both have summer jobs and spend every other weekend with their dad, which limits how often mom and children are together.

Once she's assigned to a station and works 24 hours on and has 48 hours off, she'll have more time with them.

McCoy grew up in Columbus' Linden neighborhood in a tight-knit, religious family. She graduated from Linden-McKinley High School and received an associate's degree in secretarial science from what is now Columbus State Community College. Her mother, father and brother have all died, leaving McCoy, her sister, Pat, and an extended stepfamily.

On weekends when McCoy has her children, they often go to church together at Winds of Restoration Ministries on the east side, where her sister is the minister.