By Morgan Young
The Public Opinion
CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Monday wasn't a typical day for firefighter Jason Kuehler, not because he was called to an accident on Interstate 81 at 7 a.m., but because this was the first time in almost a year that the firefighter was able to respond to any emergency calls.
As the assistant fire chief of the Franklin Fire Company in Chambersburg and a firefighter with the Alexandria, Va. fire department, Kuehler had his first day back Monday.
Kuehler spent a month of hospitalization for burns on more than 30 percent of his body as a result of a mobile home fire in Hamilton Township March 19, followed by more than nine months of rehabilitation.
Kuehler, who has worked as a firefighter for around 12 years, said he is happy to be back doing what he loves.
"The last time I was able to do this I spent a month in the hospital because of it and I fought for the last nine months trying to get back to being able to do what I'm doing today," he said.
"It's about damn time (he was back)," Mark Trace, Franklin Fire Company said jokingly of Kuehler's official return to work. "That's just my way of saying it's good to see him back."
After initially being taken to Chambersburg Hospital after the March fire, Kuehler was transferred to Johns Hopkins Burn Center at Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, returning to his wife and two children on April 20.
In the months that followed, Kuehler started physical therapy three times a week and was finally cleared in November to return to work with the local fire company.
As of 9 a.m. Monday, Kuehler had not responded to a call where he had to put on his fire gear. While he is looking forward to it, he said , he's still a little anxious.
"I think I'll be a little on edge for a bit, I've thought about (being called to a mobile fire) often, but I think I'll just have to go through the motions and do my job," he said. "I'm looking forward it, but in the back of my mind I'm going to remember what happened to me and make sure that I'm looking out for those (saftey) factors and keep me and the rest of my crew safe."
The opportunity to attend the World Burn Congress, an annual international conference that brings together more than 800 burn survivors and their families. helped to motivate Kuehler to get back to work. However, it was the support of his family, friends and the community, that really got him back in his gear.
"(To the community) 'thank you,'" he said. "I still get choked up thinking about it. From the moment it happened, from the neighbors coming over watching my kids, to the (company) driving down to Bayview to be with me, to taking care of my wife and my house, just thank you. If I ever have the opportunity to pay it forward to someone I will."
And he is. Kuehler and his wife Dana have been given the opportunity to be peer volunteers with Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery, a program designed by The Phoenix Society and a national committee of experts to provide training to burn survivors and their family members so that they can help others whose lives have been affected by a burn injury.
For now, along with getting back into the swing of work again, Kuehler will continue to go to rehabilitation for two hours once a week to finish work on his range on motion in his hands, which were severely burned in the fire and initial thought to be lost, and also scar tissue on his side.
Getting back to normal is what, Trace said, he hopes Kuehler's return will symbolize.
"It's good to hear him on the radio and get back to some normal, it been nine months of not normal," he said. "It's good to see him want to be back, whenever a firefighter gets hurt like that you don't know if they'll be back, you don't know if he'll be back physically and you don't know mentally. He's ready."
Kuehler said his experience over the last month has shown him much more what was important out of life, summing up what he learned in one final message:
"Look out for each other. Every given day, be thankful for what you have," he said.
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