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FIREFIGHTER BATTLES PTSD AFTER EXPLOSION

     

Thursday, February 25, 2016  OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- It was all hands on deck for a two-alarm fire that injured seven in late January.

"We got very lucky," said Mike Terrell, one of the firefighters that was hurt that day. "We could have had five firefighters and a civilian dead like that." he said as he snapped his fingers.

He's referring to a massive fire at the Heafey-Hoffmann-Dworak & Cutler Funeral Home in Omaha. Terrell was inside the building when there was a major explosion.

Terrell was part of a two-man team. His crew's job was to turn off the gas line to the building that was inside.

While Terrell was inside he encountered the owner of the funeral home, and was trying to get him out when an explosion went off inside.

"Last thing I remember is trying to reach out with my right hand to shield Mr. Cutler from getting hurt," he said.

Terrell came to on his stomach; he dragged himself, crawling to get out.

Terrell was discharged from the hospital within a day, but 36 hours later he blacked out at his home. His wife frantically called 9-1-1.



"I don't remember the six guys being here, carrying myself downstairs, or any of that," Terrell explained.

Terrell was suffering from effects of a concussion that he'd unknowingly received from the explosion. When he came to he felt different. He was paranoid and scared someone wanted to hurt him, or his family.

Eventually he learned that he was battling a form of PTSD as a result of the blast.

"I know what to do at a fire. I know what to do at an emergency situation; that I've been trained to. Not having control over my mind, it's a lot worse."

Fires, crashes and the worst of the worst calls began to resurface for Terrell; some as far back as 20 years. Terrell, who began his work as a firefighter nearly 30 years ago in Millard, was remembering situations that he thought he'd gotten over years ago.

At the time when they occurred crashes, bad accidents inside of homes and fires were difficult -- but they had never affected him like they were now. Terrell said each memory was vivid.

"There's a lot of stuff I thought I'd dealt with that is resurfacing," he said.

Terrell turned to a counselor and he said it's helped with nightmares and flashbacks. He said he wasn't willing to take any risks, pointing out that a firefighter in our area took their own life roughly a year ago. Terrell isn't having thoughts like that, but he also noted he doesn't know what type of state of mind someone would have before doing that.

It's not that Terrell wants to scare anyone; he's hoping talking about this stuff makes it easier for others.

"Police officers and all first responders have seen stuff that normal people don't have to see and, if there is something I can do to help anyone that's hurting from that, that's what I want to do," said Terrell. "I can't do my job right now, but if there is something that I can do to help someone that's seen stuff that the normal public hasn't seen. (Maybe it's) sitting down talking one-on-one, or just even on a phone call, you know -- I get it. I know what you're going through."

As for the concerns about him, Terrell told said he's hardly the only one hurting.

While he discussed his injuries at length, Terrell said there are others who received worse injuries. In fact, he said the real story should be about the other firefighters that were injured. For his part, Terrell really doesn't want any attention for what happened. He just wants to be back at work.

According to Terrell, one man was lifted up by the same blast that injured him. That firefighter was on the roof of the funeral home cutting a ventilation hole into the roof. When he landed from the blast his steel toed boots somehow curled in, which led to him losing some of his toes.

That firefighter is going through a number of their own challenges. Terrell said it may be another six months before they even know if the firefighter can walk without a limp -- a serious issue for a person who makes a living rushing into fires.

Terrell may have his own rehab moving forward. If a specialized shot doesn't work he may need neck surgery before he heads back to work. Aside from the PTSD symptoms he's dealing with his arm will go numb at times. If the shot works he'll be back to work sooner rather than later -- but in the meantime he said he's getting a lot of support from his fellow-firefighters and from his family.

He's hopeful that if anything is taken away from this situation, it's that people begin to have real conversations about the types of issues that first-responders go through so that people understand they're not alone. The people who've come forward and talked to him about his own PTSD has been one of the most important steps of his own healing process.



Read the original version of this article at wowt.com.



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