Burned Tulsa Firefighters Discuss Battling School Blaze

The heavily bandaged burned right hand of Tulsa firefighter Matt Bell is a reminder of the price paid to serve the community.

Bell was among eight firefighters injured Sept. 5 during an explosion inside the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, 2324 E. 17th St., which resulted in lengthy hospital stints for some of the crew members.

All since have been released from Hillcrest Medical Center.

"Normally we are on the other end -- helping victims who were in fires," Bell said during a news conference Wednesday. "It was interesting to be on the other side of that."

First-year firefighter Spencer Manier, who was fresh out of the academy this past June, said "there was really no time to react" to the explosion that nearly cost them their lives.

"I've never been in that situation before," said Manier. The explosion "just threw us out. Our gear protected us pretty good. We just relied on our training."

Even though some members of the group were badly burned, what impressed fourth-year firefighter Jeremiah Mefford the most was the unit's ability to stay composed during the situation, allowing injured firefighters to tend to other members of the group who were hurt.

"To do that speaks to how we care about each other," Mefford said. "We're a family."

The injured firefighters are unsure when they will return to duty.

Although some of the firefighters didn't spend much time in the hospital, Bell, who had a severely burned hand that required a skin graft, came away with a new appreciation for burn victims.

"I've never been burned before," he said. "It's not a fun process."

The ordeal also strengthened the bond among the group of veterans and rookies.

"A lot of good came of this," Mefford said. "It put us all back together."

The other firefighters who were injured were Ryan Beeler, Alec Kidener, Mike Rodriguez, Terry Sivadon and Heath Tye.

Copyright 2012 - Tulsa World, Okla.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service