Almost two years ago, Manchester native and firefighter, Steve DesRuisseaux was called out to a fire at a three-story apartment building with people trapped on the top floor, hanging out of windows and calling for help. With the first two floors cleared, Steve back went into the building and up to the 3rd floor to attempt additional rescues as the firefighters believed four people were trapped.
However, conditions changed in the blink of an eye. Steve had caught up to two of the people in the apartment but all of a sudden could not see anything in the building. He was feeling for a wall or window with two people on him, one semi-conscious. He found a door, felt an opening and unfortunately fell down a flight of stairs. The fire just kept getting worse and the fact the building was in a hoarding situation with things everywhere, did not help. That made it challenging to find openings in a no visibility situation.
He kept going downstairs and things were getting worse. Eventually he found a window and tried diving out headfirst, but the waist strap of his self-contained breathing apparatus got stuck and he was just hanging outside the opening and understandably, started to panic. His face mask started to melt, and he thought the worst.
Thankfully a bystander and Good Samaritan saw what was going on – got a few members of Steve’s Engine 11 squad – and they got him loose. Steve was on fire for 30 seconds and fell about 20 feet, hitting the ground hard. They got his coat off and took him a hospital, then quickly transferred him to Mass General, who has a great burn unit. Steve, though, was conscious for all of this and remembers this experience in vivid detail.
Steve had 3rd degree burns over 20% of his body including his entire left side – arm, ear, hand, face, back, and thigh, in addition to the backs of both legs. He spent a month in Mass General and had six surgeries during that time.
Once he went home, he was off work for three months and eventually weaned himself off pain meds, became more self-sufficient and continued his rehabilitation. He started back on light duty 9 months after his accident – same Captain, same Engine and Steve says he has good and bad days.
He heard about the Foundation through a friend that knew Lionel Crowther and jumped at the chance to join an Adaptive trip. He felt it was therapeutic to be around people that had been through similar traumas and had such positive energies. It was also nice to get back to the outdoors and this inspired him to see how so many people have it worse but have high spirits. The best thing about Adaptive is that it has shown him to continue to embrace life and live it to the fullest.