Firehouse World Speaker Teaches Lessons in Adversity

Overcoming adversity is something Nick Kalt knows all about. He nearly got his hands blown off during Marine training, got shot in Iraq, recovered, and became a firefighter in California.

His comrades got him back to the Humvee and as they picked him up, he realized the blood he was losing was collecting in his boots. In the rig, Kalt said he remembers giving one of the guys his dog tags and letting him know he had A Positive blood type.

“I figured I would need a little bit when I got to the hospital,” Kalt said, noting that the last thing he remembered was his rescuer telling him he may want to sit on his buttocks to stem the blood loss.

“I woke up two and a half weeks later in Bethesda, Maryland, and I remember the first thing I saw was my brother’s face,” Kalt said. “I asked him if I was going to die.” His brother responded that the worst was over but it was touch and go for a long while.

“I felt pretty terrible and I felt like I was going to die,” he said.

And he almost had died.

The doctor at the hospital in Germany where Kalt was initially evacuated to told his parents they should get to his bedside as soon as they could, or they may never see him alive again.

Kalt said his parents, who had never had passports in their lives, were winging their way to Germany and stayed at his side for the return trip in a military cargo plane for nine and a half hours.

Determined, once again, to battle back from adversity, Kalt said he went from being unable to chew his own food or move his lower body, to recovery, sufficiently well enough to become a firefighter.

“I was determined to walk again, so I went from wiggling my toes, to moving my legs to walking down the hallways with a walker, with my ass cheeks blown out, hanging out of my hospital gown,” Kalt said.

He progressed to walking with a cane, to just holding on to furniture at his parents’ home.

His recovery allowed him to welcome his guys back to base after deployment, having not lost one member, and bringing home 11 Purple Heart medals.

In 2006, Kalt was honorably discharged from the Marines and decided to join the fire service, largely because he was hooked on public service and the brotherhood firefighters share.

Kalt said he feels fortunate to have been chosen from among the thousands of applicants looking to become Long Beach, Calif., firefighters.

“Tell me that’s not luck,” Kalt said. “…I’ve heard people say that after you have a near-death experience, you start to appreciate the little things in life. From my experience, I have always appreciated the little things.” That, he said may have helped him overcome his adversities.

Kalt said even though he feels he is still a rookie to the fire service, he’s learned lessons that can help firefighters overcome adversities of almost any kind.

Whatever obstacles are placed in the way, such as budgetary constraints, or personal challenges, there’s just one thing to do.

“Each and every one of us who wears the badge will face challenges,” Kalt said. “You’ve got to figure out how to go over, around and do whatever it takes to get through it.”