‘This job is the best job around': Mass. firefighter returns to work with prosthetic leg
Lawrence firefighter Miguel Baez focused on recovering as quickly as possible and committed himself to being upbeat
By Jill Harmacinski
Gloucester Daily Times
LAWRENCE, Mass. — The motorcycle crash left Miguel Baez with 11 broken ribs, a split pelvis, shattered elbow, damaged pancreas and kidneys, collapsed lung and the bottom of his right leg “was lost on impact.”
“I was a mess. A mess. They didn’t think I would make it,” said Baez, 49.
But less than two years after the off-duty motorcycle crash in Salem, New Hampshire, Baez, with the use of a prosthetic, is back on duty with the Lawrence Fire Department.
He’s believed to be the only amputee firefighter working in Massachusetts and one of a small group of amputee firefighters on the job nationally.
“It feels amazing. It feels great — physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Baez, a 21-year Lawrence Fire Department veteran and father of two, ages 21 and 25.
He credited his faith in God and a commitment to remaining positive for his impressive recovery.
“I just don’t have any time for negative things,” said Baez, who was previously assigned to Engine 7 but now works on Engine 9 out of the Bailey Street station.
Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty said from day one, Baez promised he’d return.
“He told me ‘I’ll be back, Chief,’” Moriarty said.
In years past, a back problem, knee or hip replacement — never mind an amputation — could be a career ender for a firefighter. Moriarty pointed to advances in both medicine and prosthetics. Then he quickly pivoted to Baez’s personal strength.
“He is one determined, physically fit, dedicated individual,” Moriarty said. “He is one tough son of a gun. He worked hard to get back in shape and he did.”
‘You are going back to your family’
The night he crashed in August 2021, Baez was driving a Ducati Diavel, an Italian motorcycle that’s a cross between a sport bike and a cruiser, he said.
He said he was driving too fast and when he suddenly approached a curve, he lost control.
“I hit a rock and it catapulted me through the woods,” Baez said.
A passerby called police to report a motorcycle was in the middle of the road but “nobody was around it,” he said.
Meanwhile, critically injured in the nearby woods, Baez said he was trying to move.
“But I couldn’t,” he said.
An ambulance took him to a nearby parking lot on Route 97 where a Medflight helicopter touched down. Baez was airlifted to Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington.
Salem firefighters discovered Baez was a fellow firefighter from a tattoo on his chest.
He remembers asking what happened to his leg. “Don’t worry about your leg,” a rescuer told him.
Baez was later told he “coded,” went into cardiac arrest six times, and lost 61 pints of blood due to internal bleeding. He spent months at Lahey and then at Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, N.H.
He described an out-of-body experience he had where he asked to speak with God but was rebuffed.
“Nope, you are going back. Nope, you can’t talk to God. Nope, you are going back to your family,” said Baez, recalling what he was told during the experience.
Later, during his treatment, Baez also learned he had a blood clot near his heart that had nothing to do with the accident. Left untreated, the clot could have been very dangerous.
“I believe my accident was a blessing ... As soon as I woke up, I said, ‘This is a blessing. This is God’s plan. Use me as your instrument,’” Baez said. “I believe the accident actually saved me.”
‘Never felt alone’
Once he was transferred from Lahey, Baez described the care and treatment he received at Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital as nothing short of amazing.
He was focused on recovering as quickly as possible and committed himself to being upbeat.
“I would climb ladders at rehab. All the exercise I did at rehab helped me with the fire department,” he said.
He also worked on pushing and pulling tasks and flipping large tires for strength.
Previously athletic and physically fit, Baez said having a strong sense of balance helped him in recovery with the prosthesis.
“I never felt any depression. I never felt alone. I made peace with myself that this is something that is going to take time. I would relax, meditate, pray and talk to God a lot,” he said.
In addition to his family, Baez said the support he received from Lawrence and other fire departments was awe-inspiring.
“This job is the best job around. They talk about the brotherhood coming together. They helped me with everything,” he said.
Lawrence Fire Capts. Jimmy Driscoll and Paul Hamel were by his side every step of the way.
Firefighter Ron Lavallee was a spiritual rock, Baez said.
“There have been people praying for me all over the world ... so many people that really helped me,” he said.
Years prior to the accident, Baez said he was focusing on personal development and was doing a lot of reading.
“I wanted to change my life,” he said.
Prior to his current assignment to Engine 9, Baez worked for about 8 months in fire alarm, handling emergency calls.
This week, he posted a video to his Facebook page on social media where he was preparing, with other firefighters, for training on the Merrimack River. Summer is coming, he noted.
Going forward, Baez said he will continue training and working on his strength. He’ll forever be grateful.
He suggested, “take 10 to 15 minutes every morning to give thanks for every part of your life.”