Kansas City's Ingram's magazine recently honored Jeff Smith and others in their December 2011 issue. It was good to read how FF Smith is fairing. His choice was a difficult one, one he should not have had to make, but was forced to make by another person's foolish choices. Because he chose a path that increased risk for himself, lives were saved that day.
Here is the essay from Ingram's on Jeff Smith:
In 22 years with the Kansas City Fire Department, most of them as a driver, Jeff Smith had been behind the wheel of a fire truck too many times to count. Another shortage-of-breath call at a senior-living center last February had all the earmarks of another milk run—right up until a Grand Prix pulled in front of his pumper as it gathered speed on Red Bridge Road.
Smith had a choice to make, and a microsecond to make it: A head-on collision, risking certain death for driver of that car, or swerve and take his chances. He swerved. The rear wheels of his truck scaled the engine compartment of the car, causing him to lose control. The truck careened over an embankment, hit a utility pole and slammed into a tree.
A common misconception is that a loaded pumper truck is as impervious to damage as a tank. Far from it, Smith says. “If you hit something head-on, the front of the truck just breaks apart.”
And in this case, it did. What had been the interior of his cab became a collection of jagged metal and glass shards, all moving at a high speed. Smith doesn’t remember much about the impact, only the frantic cries of other crew members urging him not to try getting up.
Not until after the doctors had informed him that they couldn’t save his left leg did he learn that someone else was in that car, a 3-year-old girl. Two lives saved. One leg lost at mid-calf. Smith runs the math on that, and says it adds up.
“For a long time, I questioned whether I had enough time, and always asked myself if there was a chance to do something different,” he says. “But if I had gone even a foot to the left, there were four or five cars there, and the captain said that almost certainly there would have been a fatality. He said what happened was the best possible outcome, and I think that’s right.”
But at a price. Smith has spent nearly a year in recovery, and endures 90-minute sessions of physical therapy twice a week. He isn’t back to work yet, and isn’t entirely sure what future roles he might have at the department. Biking is probably out, softball almost assuredly, he says.
Even now, after the acclaim as a hero for his sacrifice, Smith isn’t claiming that mantle for his own.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” he says. “I did my job like I was supposed to. I can wish I had my leg back, but two people are alive because of what I did. Everyone survived, and that’s the best thing in the world.”
Links: Ingram's Magazine on line.
Accounts of the accident, linked and summarized by fire service bloggers:
Images above: Ingram's cover featuring Jeff Smith and five other heroes, Jeff Smith in Ingram's photo. Observer photo of the area of impact--note the new utility pole and damaged tree--taken a couple days after the crash. The damage is still visible today, 10 months later.
We give the fire department--and the politics that surround its administration--a lot of crap around here. We still think the whole EMS thing is a disaster. That being said, however, this is a pretty neat group of people overall and many of them are exceptional.