Burned Pa. Firefighter Leaves Hospital After Three Months

May 17, 2013
Nearly three months after being severely burned in a fire that killed two in the city, firefighter Lt. Andre Kelley walked out of a rehab hospital Wednesday morning to a hero's welcome.

Nearly three months after being severely burned in a fire that killed two in the city, firefighter Lt. Andre Kelley walked out of a rehab hospital Wednesday morning to a hero's welcome.

A procession of fire trucks carrying fellow firefighters from as far away as Blue Rock Fire Rescue in Manor Township led the triumphant procession from Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital in East Hempfield Township, through blocked-off city streets and to Kelley's cozy row home, newly spruced up by his comrades.

City hall workers cheered wildly on the building's front steps and county sheriffs stood at attention and saluted in front of Lancaster County Courthouse on South Duke Street as the procession went by.

Exiting a 30-foot-long black stretch limousine, Kelley, his wife and two children spent several minutes hugging some of the 100 or so firefighters, family members, neighbors and well-wishers who had gathered on Clermont Avenue.

"It's definitely good to be home," Kelley said softly, tears in his eyes, while hugging one of his fellow firefighters.

Turning to face the throng at the steps to his home, Kelley smiled broadly and said, "I appreciate you guys. Thank you, guys."

In addition to firefighters, Kelley's words also were meant for a community that has rallied to his side, holding at least a dozen fundraisers that have raised tens of thousands of dollars to help Kelley and his family through the ordeal.

Kelley has spent agonizing weeks in rehabilitation, undergoing a series of painful skin grafts to repair severe burns on 40 percent of his body.

The firefighter was injured after he entered a burning home at 226 E. Madison St. as he tried to save two people who were trapped inside.

Kelley became trapped himself in a "flashover," which happened when the contents of the room he was in reached the combustion point and exploded into flames. He was rescued by other firefighters and immediately flown to Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Pauline Stone, 38, and 6-year-old Leilani Roman died in the blaze.

Two other firefighters also were injured. Tom Bender sustained first- and second-degree burns, and Craig Robertson broke a vertebra while fighting the blaze.

Kelley's recuperation began at Crozer-Chester and continued at Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital.

About an hour before his release, firefighters gathered at Station 3, Kelley's home station on East King Street. Active and off-duty firefighters attached American flags to the backs of fire trucks that would soon greet their returning comrade.

About 50 firefighters collected outside the hospital and formed lines on either side of the entrance.

One of them was Don Mohr, who was with Kelley the night of the fire. Like Kelley, he, too, had been severely burned in a fire and had gone through the agony of healing from torched skin, as well as emotional scars.

"This has been his worst nightmare, and we just hope the best for him," Mohr said. Of Kelley's impending release, he said, "This is something that we've been looking forward to for an awful long time.

"We just want to see him do the best he can do. We're really brothers - all of us. He will be back."

At 11 o'clock, Kelley emerged, smiling broadly, walking slowly, holding the hands of his daughter, Ajanae, 13, and his wife, Lyondra, who clasped a hand of their son, Andre Jr., 7.

As did most of the other firefighters, Kelley wore a black T-shirt with his name and the slogan, "Nothing will keep me against the ropes."

He had on a Lancaster city Fire Bureau baseball cap, sneakers and black sweat pants. Both his forearms were covered in turquoise bandages.

To sustained applause, the firefighter and his family climbed inside the stretch limousine, provided by Infinity Transportation.

"He risked his life. I think he deserves a nice ride home," said the Lancaster company's owner, Robbie Gardner.

Gardner had placed a dozen roses on the seat.

Sandwiched between police cars and 14 fire trucks - with Kelley's Engine 3 at the vanguard - Kelley's limo wound through the city, sirens wailing. Each intersection was blocked to traffic.

Some onlookers looked bewildered at the long parade of flashing lights. Others knew Kelley was coming and stood and cheered, taking video.

Near his home on Clermont Avenue, the procession passed under a ladder extended high over the street by the Lafayette Fire Company.

A crowd even larger than the one at the hospital greeted Kelley and his family, filling the front yard of the family's row home on a quiet, tree-lined street in the southeastern part of the city.

Kelley waved to the crowd and hugged many.

Cries of "Welcome home, Andre" and "Praise God" rang out.

Supporting himself by gripping a new railing recently built by firefighters and volunteers, he then slowly climbed the steps and was finally home again.

Copyright 2013 Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.All Rights Reserved

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