2 firefighters hurt in house explosion recovering

Both firefighters suffered broken legs and are using wheelchairs to get around; they hope to be back on the job in six months

The Herald

YORK COUNTY, S.C. — Two York County firefighters who suffered broken legs two weeks ago when a brick wall collapsed on them during a house fire say they hope to be back on the job in about six months.

The two men — 55-year-old Rich Diamanti and 23-year-old Joseph Volk — responded to the house fire on Volunteer Drive along with others from the Newport Fire Department on March 23.

Diamanti said on Wednesday that the crew hadn’t been on scene for more than a few minutes when a roof beam fell and pushed the exterior wall down. He and Volk were standing in what firefighters call the “collapse zone” — an area around a burning structure where personnel could be injured if the blaze brings down a roof or wall.

This week, both men said they’re focused on their recovery and things are going well. They are both unable to walk and are using wheelchairs to get around.

Volk says he’s hoping to be able to put pressure on his left leg soon and start walking on his own in about three months. He and Diamanti said it could be about six months before they’re fighting fires again in Newport but that they’re both eager to get back in action.

Diamanti’s right leg suffered a triple, open compound fracture. His tibia and fibula — both bones in his lower leg — broke through his skin.

Volk also sustained a compound fracture in his lower leg — breaking both his tibia and fibula. And, his back was burned.

Both men were rushed to Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill during the late afternoon accident last month. Later, Diamanti was treated by orthopedic doctors in Charlotte.

After the brick wall fell, crushing his leg, Volk says he remembers waking up in the ambulance. His last memory from the scene, he said, was watching the garage roof collapse.

Fire seemed ‘unstoppable’
The two men had turned their backs toward the house fire momentarily, Diamanti said, to try to extinguish flames that had reached a pickup truck in the driveway.

“When I turned my head back to look at the fire, suddenly there was a ton of debris on top of me,” Diamanti said.

Diamanti — a fireman with 38 years of experience — then dragged himself partially down the home’s driveway so that other Newport personnel could see he needed help. EMS crews responded and other local fire departments showed up to help put out the fire.

That day’s fire, officials say, was a challenging one. The Newport Fire Department was on the scene within minutes of a dispatcher taking the 911 call from a neighbor. Volunteer Drive sits off S.C. 5 and Tirzah Road, in the Newport area between the cities of Rock Hill and York.

Very quickly, Diamanti said, the fire took hold of the home, engulfing the garage in flames and beginning to spread to other parts of the structure. As the Newport fire engine turned the corner onto the neighborhood street, “we knew it was going to be a lot of work,” he said.

“Whatever was involved in that garage really kept it going ... It was unstoppable, from our vantage point.”

Neighbors reported hearing multiple explosion sounds from inside the garage where the fire apparently started. The home’s resident told The Herald at the scene that he was home when the blaze broke out. Andrew King said he heard a “crack” in his garage, where his water heater is located and he runs a convenience store petroleum maintenance business.

King was not injured in the fire.

Given the scale of the house fire and the eventual roof collapse over the garage, Diamanti says he’s wondered if he and Volk would have avoided injury if the fire department had been just a few minutes later to the scene. The fire station is less than 4 miles from the house.

Still, Diamanti said, their injuries “could have been much worse.”

Volk agreed, saying “I feel really lucky. I know God was watching over us that day.”

Danger ‘comes with the business’
They could have sustained worse injuries than broken legs, Volk said. He added: “We could have lost our legs. We could have been crushed and died. I’m thankful it’s just a broken leg.”

Diamanti estimates that the home’s large sections of brick wall that fell could have weighed between 300 and 500 pounds. Potential dangers and injuries, he said, “comes with the business” of fighting fires.

“We know that going in. And, getting on the scene, we try to work as safe as possible. It’s just an unfortunate accident that happened.”

Volk — who says he’s wanted to be a firefighter since he visited a Rock Hill Fire Department station at age 5 for a birthday party — says he’s itching to get suited up and rejoin his fire department family. He started working at the Newport Fire Department in 2009.

“As soon as I turned 18, I put an application in ... I can’t wait to get back at it,” Volk said.

Diamanti called the accident “a little deterrent ... We’ll be back on the job again.”

He started work as a firefighter in New Jersey in 1977. After he and his wife Nancy moved to South Carolina, Diamanti said he missed the camaraderie at the fire station so he applied for a job with Newport.

Volk and Diamanti are part of a fire department made up of about 43 personnel — the majority of which are volunteers. On the day of the fire when the men were injured, they were on the clock as part-time firemen. During other shifts, they volunteer.

The firemen say insurance policies will cover their medical expenses but they’ve been touched by the outpouring of community support recently. Newport Fire Chief Carl Faulk said the department may announce fundraisers or events for future support, if needed.

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