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Three FFs Continue to Serve After Surviving Natural Gas Bomb

Three FFs Continue to Serve After Surviving Natural Gas Bomb

Columbus Dispatch via YellowBrix

September 08, 2010

“This is our family away from home,” Whiteside said. “I got so many phone calls we had to turn our phones off the first week.”

Recovery for all three was long, tough and emotional.

Doctors found third-degree burns on Malone’s left hand and second-degree burns, some deep, on his right hand and face. During seven days in the hospital, skin was grafted onto his right hand, and the burned skin on his face was peeled off.

He had four surgeries as he gradually recovered the use of his hands.

Many of Capuana’s and Whiteside’s injuries didn’t show up until weeks after the explosion. They visited surgeons and orthopedists and had months of physical therapy to heal and strengthen their wounded muscles and bones.

The blast had thrown Capuana’s left arm back so hard that ligaments were torn and tendons were sheared off. Vertebrae in her back were twisted, and one knee was entirely numb. She had short-term memory loss, cuts on her face from flying glass and ringing in her ears.

Whiteside had a cervical tear in his lower neck, a torn meniscus in his left knee and a bruised kidney.

All three went to counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Malone, a firefighter for 33 years, was the first to return to work, a year after the blast. Capuana, a 27-year veteran, followed a month later; Whiteside, a 19-year veteran, a month after that.

Counselors still help them deal with the traumatic experience that could have ended their careers and their lives.

Sometimes, “You look back and say, ‘What if?’” Malone said.

What if the man from the bookstore hadn’t told them no one was in the building? They would have gone inside to check.

“And we’d be dead,” Malone said.

They try instead to look ahead. All three say they’re grateful to be alive, happy to be back at work, unafraid about the risks inherent in the job.

“To me, the guys in the staging area were the real heroes,” Malone said.

“They had just watched three of their comrades get blown up. These guys thought we were dead. But they didn’t miss a beat. The medics were on us immediately.”