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Injured Buffalo firefighter working towards return to duty

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City of Buffalo
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Buffalo Fire Department

Buffalo Firefighter Eric Whitehead is continuing to recover from third degree burns he suffered while battling a house fire in January. But he’s focusing on the future and getting back to work.

January 10, 2019 is a night that Eric Whitehead will remember for the rest of his life. While responding to a house fire on Butler Avenue, the Buffalo Firefighter was struck by falling debris and suffered severe burns to his hands.

“Visibility was low,” recalled Whitehead. “We get to the attic stairs, and we mask up and we’re fighting the fire, and that’s when I was hit by some debris. It knocked my helmet off and I lost the hose line. Luckily I reached out a couple times and my helmet was right there. As soon as I got my helmet secure, and my mask was still on, I couldn’t find the hose line. And I was disoriented.”

But Whitehead remained calm, because he knew his fellow firefighters had his back.

“It was a feeling that’s hard to explain. It was almost like hitting the lotto because I knew they were coming,” he said. “And when they got there, I was overjoyed. I think about it every day.”

As a result of the incident, the Buffalo Fire Department is using reexamining how they keep firefighters safe in the line of duty.

“It’s ongoing. We actually formed a safety committee. We’re looking at all aspects of this incident,” said Fire Commissioner William Renaldo. “And just going forward to make sure that not only does this not happen again, but make sure we’re limiting the extent of injuries to our members.”

Whitehead spent just over a month in the Erie County Medical Center being treated for third degree burns. Since February 11 he’s been in recovery, and says the process has been a long one. But he’s excited to one day return to his daily routine. 

“It’s just rough for me because I’m a real big gym person, and athletic,” Whitehead said. “I just want to get out there and do so many things, but I just have to go through the process.”

Whitehead has been attending therapy two to three days a week, and is hopeful he will soon be back to battling the blazes of Buffalo.

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