Craig Walker dedicates his life to helping others – and that dedication could have drastically changed his life Friday morning.
Walker, 32, the chief of Sugar Hill-Montford Cove Volunteer Fire Department, was one of the two firefighters injured when a wall collapsed during a residential fire on Mashburn Branch Road in Old Fort.
He was the one most severely injured. Raining bricks battered his helmet and knocked it from his head. One of the bricks hit him nearly in the center of his head, causing a severe concussion and a gash that required six staples.
“Im very sore,” he stated from his hospital bed about 12 hours after the incident Friday. “My head got jolted a couple of times.”
At first, doctors were concerned that he couldnt recall any details of the incident. They did some tests to check his thought process and found it to be normal, so they allowed him to return home Friday evening.
When speaking to a McDowell News reporter Saturday evening, Walker said he still couldnt remember anything other than responding to the call.
“I dont remember getting on the scene. I dont remember what happened,” the chief stated. “Its amazing that I can remember where I ate supper Thursday night, but I cant remember anything about this. The doctor said its routine with a concussion.”
Walker contended he felt much better Saturday but added that he did have a swift wakeup call when one of his fellow firefighters stopped by with Walkers helmet and turnout gear.
“From what it looks like, my helmet took three good licks, so, if I hadnt had it on, thats three more good licks my head would have taken,” he stated. “The collar of my turnout gear was just soaked with blood.”
He added that hes saving the gear and pictures of his stapled head to show new firefighters that no call can be considered routine.
Walker has been a member of McDowell Countys fire service for 17 years, since he was 15 years old. He was a paramedic with McDowell EMS for 13 years until getting a full-time job about a year ago with Skyland Fire Department in Buncombe County. He still works part time with EMS.
Despite all his years and all his training, nothing could have prepared him for Friday mornings mishap.
“It could have been so bad,” the chief stated. “Im just glad there werent more firemen in that area or they would have been hurt, too. We did everything right. Theres no way we could have known there was block behind that brick wall. Its just one of the everyday dangers that goes with it.”
He said the fear of someone getting hurt at a fire scene is always in the back of his mind, especially since hes a chief.
“You realize the dangers of it, and you always know it could happen, but Im afraid of it happening to one of my guys,” he stated. “Ill take a bump on the noggin if it means keeping my guys safe.”
Walker added that this incident has been a learning experience.
“Im going to be more cautious, and Im going to change some things I do,” he said.
Even though he might not remember all the details of that day, he still has a reminder.
“The scar (on his head) will be my memory,” Walker stated.
He thanked firefighters and emergency personnel from McDowell and Buncombe counties that were present at the hospital and called him during his time of need.
By RICHELLE BAILEY
Sunday, December 30, 2007