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Surviving the Flames; Two Heroes Tell their Tale

Surviving the Flames; Two Heroes Tell their Tale

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The Modesto Bee via YellowBrix

March 22, 2010

“I had to see him,” said Clevenger, in pain from burns on his legs, rear and ears. "I jumped in the way. Jim said, ‘Are you OK?’ I said, ‘Yeah. How are you?’ He said, ’I’m hot.’ "

Clevenger went to Doctors Medical Center. Before Adams left for Memorial Medical Center, he told Capt. Greg Ewert to call his wife and give her a message.

“That’s the last thing I remember about that night,” he said. He later was taken to the burn unit at Sacramento’s University of California Medical Center by ambulance because thick fog that night grounded the helicopter.

When Ewert called Adams’ wife, he said, “Amy, this is Greg Ewert. Are you sitting down?”

The department arranged for a Calaveras County sheriff’s deputy to drive her from their home to Copperopolis, where they met Modesto police Lt. Ron Cloward. He drove her to Memorial.

“It felt like forever, waiting for (her ride),” Amy Adams said. “I was walking around the house. They didn’t want me to drive.”

“We didn’t know if she’d get to see him alive,” Miguel said.

Jim Adams had never set foot inside the UC Medical Center for any reason until the summer of 2009, when his young grandson, Camden, was bitten on the finger by a baby rattlesnake on their property. The boy recovered fully. Later that year, two other relatives went to the same hospital for treatment.

Adams spent 53 days — including about three weeks sedated — in the hospital’s burn unit. Clevenger joined him for about two weeks of rehabilitation.

Firefighters from Modesto and Sacramento maintained a constant presence at the hospital, bringing food to the family members and offering emotional support.

When Adams left the hospital Feb. 23, he surprised everyone — Amy and his family included — by raising his arms victoriously and bounding out of the building with an agility she hadn’t seen to that point in his rehabilitation.

To tears and cheers from the 100 or so who welcomed him back to the outside world that day, Adams climbed into the seat of his Modesto firetruck, his grandsons Camden and Justin joining him behind the wheel.

Adams will know in about a year whether he’ll be able to return to work as a fire engineer driving that truck.

His recovery, remarkable as it might seem so far, is still in its infancy. He likely will need more surgeries and skin grafts. Each day includes painful stretching exercises to increase his range of motion.

“You swear your skin is just going to rip apart,” he said. “Then you stretch it a little further.”

The worst of Clevenger’s burns were to his rear end.

“Now, my son (2-year-old Conner) points at anybody’s butt and says, ’Daddy’s owie!’ " Clevenger said.

He returns to work, albeit on light duty, Monday. He’ll work on special projects before rejoining his crew a few months from now.

“I can’t wait to cut another hole in a roof,” he said. “The smell of a two-stroke (chain saw) engine will get me over this.”

Watch the Video: Modesto Firefighters Say Thanks