N.C. firefighter hopes to return after fall from ladder

John Sadler Jr. says he's lucky he wasn't paralyzed after a 20-foot fall during a training exercise

Sun Journal

REELSBORO, N.C. — John “Freddie” Sadler Jr. is an active, on-the-go 23-year-old whose life includes a non-stop dedication to volunteer firefighting.

That is on hold for now after he recently suffered shattered and fractured vertebrae in his lower back during a training exercise accident.

But, Sadler, who counts himself lucky that he’s not paralyzed, already looks forward to returning to his passion of being a firefighter — assistant chief at the Reelsboro volunteer department and a volunteer with New Bern Fire and Rescue.

“They (doctors) said if I do everything they say, I can have a full recovery and return to firefighting,” he said Tuesday.

Sadler’s injured area is part of the Lumbar Spine, which is known as the lower back, consisting of five large vertebrae, labeled L1 to L5.

“I completely shattered my L3 and fractured my L1,” he said from his mother’s Reelsboro home.

When he returned home last weekend after a six-day hospital stay, the first place he wanted to go was the Reelsboro fire house. He can recline with the seat nearly down on the passenger side of a vehicle.

“I am up and walking, but it’s just for short times,” he said. “I have to have a brace on, a walker and someone to walk with me in case I fall.”

He will be in a body brace — from his collarbone to tailbone — called a “turtle” for 12 weeks before beginning an unknown period of rehabilitation.

He can take it off when in bed, but he must be on his left or right side.

A six-hour operation at Vidiant Medical Center in Greenville included the placement of two rods, six screws and a mesh cage.

The injury came during drills at the New Bern training facility while he was in the midst of a rescue from a third-story window.

“I got to the third-story window and they put the dummy out to me,” he recalled. “I started going down knee-by-knee on the rungs with the dummy resting on my knee.”

He got as far as the second floor window when he felt his hands begin to slip.

“I yelled out and they tried to get to me, but it was too late and I just fell onto the concrete,” he said. The fall was about 20 feet and he landed on his air pack, strapped to his back.

“I knew something was wrong because I felt a lot of pain in my back and my legs were very numb and tingling,” he recalled.

Sadler has been a firefighter for nearly eight years.

“It is what I love to do and it is what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was little,” he said. “My dad is a paid firefighter.”

Sadler’s name is John Frederick. His father is known as Fred and his son’s handle has always been Freddie.

Freddie said the senior Sadler was his inspiration to be a fireman.

Sadler Jr.’s fulltime job is that of jailer at the Pamlico County jail.

“It’s going to be awhile before I get back to doing that, too,” he said.

He was covered by fire department workman’s comp.

But, his fellow firefighters, headed by Reelsboro Chief Dwayne Croom, know there will be financial challenges and they have set up a way for the public to donate.

Croom said donations can be made in Sadler’s name to any North Carolina State Employee’s Credit Union office.

“I know he has a long road of recovery ahead of him,” Croom said. “He is top-notch, as a person and as a fireman. Both us and New Bern have lost a good firefighter, for now.”

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