Anchorage firefighter who fell 100 feet from ladder returns to work
Injured firefighter Ben Schultz has come full circle, once again working at the Anchorage Fire Department after a 2017 training accident that nearly took his life.
"It's good to be back serving the community of Anchorage again and working alongside my bothers and sisters at AFD," Schultz said.
Schultz is currently working to catalog old AFD photos and video, which will serve as historical records. He says photos go back about 100 years.
"The history of the fire service is pretty important," said Schultz.
AFD Chief Jodie Hettrick says the position wasn't created for Schultz, and is based on work other staff members were doing alongside their other duties. Schultz says the part-time position is an administrative role, as special assistant to the fire chief.
An Anchorage Fire Department report indicated that Schultz fell approximately 100 feet from an aerial ladder during a training exercise in June 2017. No one saw Schultz fall and he was found by AFD personnel on the ground behind a fire truck. According to AFD, Schultz stayed within the edges of the ladder – but would have suffered even more severe injuries had he fallen outside it.
Schultz broke both ankles, some ribs, and arm, bruised his liver and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for a couple months. Schultz recovered at a hospital in Denver and was then transferred to a post-hospital center in Omaha, Neb. that specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injury rehabilitation.
Schultz says he worked in the department as a firefighter paramedic and had successfully passed AFD engineer testing, but hadn't yet been promoted at the time of the accident.
Although Schultz's goal is a return to firefighting duties, he admits that doing so may be a battle because of his injuries.
"The chances of it happening again are pretty slim, because in order for that to happen it would require another pretty invasive brain surgery," said Schultz.
Schultz says he has what's called a shunt in his brain, a device that drains fluid that builds in the brain and redirects it to another part of the body.
"If there's any elevation above a certain amount, and that amount is programmable by the doctors, then it basically drains it into my stomach," said Schultz.
In May Schultz will go back to Craig Hospital in Denver to get a full check of how the shunt is working. He says if tests reveal elevated levels of fluid, the shunt would stay in and he wouldn't be able to do what he did before. But he says it the shunt comes out that would give him a potential shot of becoming a firefighter again.
"Captains on the line have said, 'The sky's the limit,'" Schultz said. "I've come this far; who knows how far that I'm going to go?"
Schultz does have a Plan B, just in case. He says he's working on getting certification to possibly become a fire inspector.
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