USA — Celebration was in order Monday morning, as one Fort Sill firefighter returned to work after being severely injured.
Pat Denton was battling a grass fire near an artillery impact area in May, when a partially-buried artillery shell exploded as he stood nearby. He was sent to the OU Trauma Center in Oklahoma City with severe injuries to his right ear and side. Now, Denton is thrilled to be back at work, and his coworkers feel the same way.
Pat Denton suffered extensive injuries from that fateful fire last Spring, but Monday he was all smiles as he returned to the job he loves and greeted the people that supported him through the entire ordeal.
It was Denton’s 33rd birthday when one piece of artillery changed everything.
“I was fixing to move the truck, and I was cooling down a hotspot,” Denton said. “I had a round detonate on me. There’s always that possibility because of where we fight fire.”
Even though he never lost consciousness, he knew something was wrong.
“I went down to my knees and gained my composure back,” Denton said. “That’s when I felt all the blood. So I ran back up the hill and by that time, the other firefighters were running towards me. They started working on me trying to stop the bleeding.”
Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Thomas remembers receiving the call that one of their own had been hurt, and everything after became a whirlwind.
“It appeared to be a routine call that turned out to be not-so-routine,” Thomas said. “Things going through my head were obviously fear, hoping for the best but not sure what his state was at that time.”
Denton suffered hearing loss in his right ear after losing 95% of his ear drum. His hearing is finally back, but only minimally. He said he will have to undergo several more surgeries before his hearing is completely back to normal. He also received second and third degree burns to his face, and he still has pieces of shrapnel lodged in his chest, shoulder, leg and face.
It took Denton nearly five months to regain his hearing and come back to work at Fort Sill. Even though his workload is a lot lighter right now, fire chiefs say to have him back means the world to the entire department.
“We’ve missed him very much,” Thomas said. “Pat’s kind of like our little brother. We’re glad to see him come back.”
Denton will perform computer work in the offices for now, until he’s ready to battle blazes once again. He said just being back with what he calls his second family is something that’s very special. He said there’s only one reason why he’s here.
“I was very, very lucky,” Denton said. “God was with me. There’s really no reason why I’m here giving this interview other than God.”
Of course, Denton also gives credit to his wife and two kids for helping him recover. He said despite the stress it’s put on the family, they’ve been a source of strength for him by being extremely supportive. When asked what his plans were for his next birthday, he simply stated that he’s taking the day off.