Injured Philly FF to Open Blink-182 Concert as Bassist

May 19, 2023
Randy Ballinger has undergone multiple surgeries and uses a wheelchair to get around after falling off the roof of Philadelphia rowhome.

By: Stephanie Farr

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

Apr. 24—Philadelphia firefighter Randy Ballinger doesn't remember falling 25 feet from the roof of a Kingsessing rowhouse while fighting a fire Feb. 25. His first memory is of being wheeled through the trauma center at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and seeing the fluorescent lights above.

Ballinger spent 13 days in the hospital, where he underwent heart surgery and was treated for four broken ribs, a punctured lung, a compound leg fracture, a broken heel, and a broken pelvis.

"I like to say that my X-ray looks like the Game of Thrones chair," Ballinger said.

But come Memorial Day weekend, Ballinger's X-ray and the screws in his body won't be the most metal thing about him.

When Geoff Gordon, regional president of Live Nation Northeast, heard Ballinger is the longtime bassist for a punk rock band, Jersey Calling, he surprised the firefighter on a video call earlier this month. He asked the band to open for the Adjacent Music Festival in Atlantic City Memorial Day weekend.

"That would be the biggest dream come true," Ballinger told Gordon from his hospital bed, during a recent rehospitalization due to an infection.

The two-day festival features headliners Paramore and blink-182, and other acts like Japanese Breakfast and Coheed & Cambria.

"The Adjacent Festival had me absolutely floored. He said they expect attendance to be 25,000 to 30,000 people," Ballinger said. "Usually people aren't banging on our door to book shows; we're going out to get them."

Jersey Calling's biggest gig so far was for about 500 in the basement of Haddonfield United Methodist Church.

"This will obviously be bigger than that," Ballinger said. "Not to say we've been waiting around for a break, but I think this is what all of us wanted for the last 21 years, for our music to reach as many people as possible."

In a statement, Gordon called Ballinger a "real hero" who inspires others with his courage.

"Music has a unique power to bring us together and it also has an ability to heal," Gordon said. "We are psyched to give Randy and his band some hope and an opportunity to perform in front of a large audience on the beach in Atlantic City and in front of some of their favorite bands."

Ballinger, 38, of Andorra, is engaged and the father of two girls, ages 9 and 2. He grew up in Woodbury and joined the Friendship Volunteer Fire Company there at 19. He was hired on staff at the Woodbury Fire Department in 2015 before joining the Philadelphia Fire Department in 2018.

"I wanted to come somewhere more active and fight fires," he said.

At Ladder 13 in West Philly, where Ballinger is stationed, his nickname is Gritty, because he has red hair and is goofy (and because Philadelphians are ruthless). He also plays bagpipes with the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums.

Ballinger had just come on his shift Feb. 25 when the call came in for a fire on the 1100 block of South Paxton Street with reports of people trapped inside. Firefighters made sure the rowhouse was evacuated and Ballinger went to the roof with his partner to ventilate the structure.

Once the fire was under control, Ballinger's partner climbed down, then Ballinger lowered his chainsaw on a rope. His last memory is of walking to the ladder.

"I feel like your brain shuts off to protect you from that kind of trauma," he said. "I don't know what caused me to fall and I was the only one up there and nobody saw, so it will remain a mystery."

Ballinger underwent eight surgeries and was recently rehospitalized for an infection. He uses a wheelchair and has a long road of physical and occupational therapy ahead of him. A GoFundMe set up for him by his coworkers has raised more than $88,000.

"It was incredible because I'm not a person that would ask anyone for anything," he said. "The people I work with did it and it was wildly successful and I'm eternally grateful for that."

Ballinger was still hospitalized the first time he picked up an instrument after the accident. The lead guitarist of his band, Sean Breslin, brought a guitar to his bedside and they worked on music together.

"It's really therapeutic," Ballinger said. "It's pretty tough on me right now and music is my outlet."

Jersey Calling is a five-piece band, formed in 2002. They've played venues like the Fire in Northern Liberties and Kaycee Ray's in Vineland and have three albums under their belt, including the 2020 release, Punk Rock Retirement.

"It's a nod at how we're all kind of old for this but we still love it," Ballinger said.

He's been able to practice with the band since the accident and even performed at a show, playing acoustic guitar in his wheelchair for a fundraiser in his honor, at Red White and Brew in Audubon, N.J.

Ballinger said when he texted his band mates about the opportunity to play the Adjacent Music Festival, "everyone was just like exclamation points and 'Holy crap!'"

Ballinger said he's most looking forward to seeing the band Midtown and meeting artists backstage who've influenced his band.

He's planning on bringing his fiancée and 9-year-old daughter, who wears her Jersey Calling T-shirt at every school dress down day.

But more than anything, Ballinger is looking forward to returning to firefighting.

"I can't wait. The ultimate goal is to get back to work and get back to climbing on roofs," he said. "People visit me frequently but I miss being in the firehouse; there's nothing like it."

In honor of Ballinger and Jersey Calling, first responders can receive $99 daily passes to the Adjacent Music Festival by using the code "JERSEY" at


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