Injured Pa. firefighter has poignant homecoming

April 20, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Franklin Fire Co. Firefighter Jason Kuehler, of Chambersburg, Pa., speaks to the media Wednesday after returning home from John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, where he was treated for burns he received fighting a March 19th house fire.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — On Wednesday afternoon, a month after being seriously burned in a house fire, Jason Kuehler had a poignant homecoming with his wife, children and the firefighters he said are his second family.

Kuehler, 33, rode in a convoy of Franklin Fire Co. firetrucks for the last leg of his journey home to Chambersburg, Pa., from John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.

He underwent skin grafting and other surgeries there after suffering burns in a March 19 house fire in Hamilton Township, Pa.

Kuehler said he remembers making the “mayday” call on his radio and mentally saying goodbye to his children, 3-year-old Gabriella and 1-year-old Andrew.

“I’ll admit to everyone in this room, I didn’t think I was coming out,” Kuehler told the media and about 40 supporters Wednesday.

The actions of others meant the difference between life and death, according to Kuehler.

Kuehler said he continues to have pain in his left hand, left arm and right leg. If he regains full use of his left hand, Kuehler said he’ll continue firefighting with Franklin Fire Co. and the department in Alexandria, Va., where he is employed.

His parents, Craig and Andrea Kuehler, said they received a middle-of-the-night phone call from Jason’s wife, Dana, after the fire. They traveled from their Philadelphia-area home to Baltimore to see him, and counted the days until he’d return to his family.

“I think he realizes now you never know what tomorrow brings,” Craig Kuehler said.

Gabriella dictated a note to her father in which she said she wants to watch movies with him when he comes home. The children, who were told that “daddy has boo-boos,” spent about four hours with their father at the hospital in the past month.

“I used to complain it’d take two or three hours for my daughter to fall asleep on my chest,” Kuehler said. “I’d give anything to have that back now.”

Kuehler addressed his fellow firefighters when arriving at the station house at 4 p.m. He thanked them for their support, hugged his wife and said he loves her, wiped tears from his eyes and asked to embrace his children.

“You guys don’t know how good it feels to finally be outside and be in the fresh air,” Kuehler said.

The Kuehler family said fellow firefighters sat with him in the hospital, cared for his family and continued to run calls.

Two other firefighters burned in the same fire at 1449 Frank Road were treated at hospitals and released within a few days of the blaze.

Kuehler, who paused quietly for a few moments when looking at his turnout gear, said he has appointments scheduled with physical therapists and a hand specialist.

“I still have a long road ahead of me,” he said.

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