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Fresno Firefighter Speaks For First Time Since Accident

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Fire Captain Pete Dern and Family

For the first time since his dramatic fall through the roof of a burning garage, a Fresno firefighter is speaking publicly. Fire captain Pete Dern walked out of the hospital Friday to speak to a crowd of press and supporters.

“Hi. I’m am Pete Dern,”

That’s the voice of the Fresno Fire Department captain who in March was caught on cell phone video falling through a garage roof into a blazing inferno below. It took crews nearly two minutes to rescue him.

"I just want to thank everybody for all their prayers and support. It really matters. I can feel the support," Fire Captain Pete Dern

Dern’s head and hands are still heavily bandaged. Burn scars and skin grafts are clearly visible on his arms.

He has undergone more than 19 operations and 50 dressing changes to treat the second and third degree burns over much of his body.

He says the overwhelming support, including several fund drives and campaigns, has given him strength to recover.

"Recovery from burns of this magnitude is an ongoing process and can take years," Dr. William Dominic

  “Our community here in Fresno, I just want to thank everybody for all their prayers and support. It really matters. I can feel the support,” Dern said.

Dern was able to walk under his own power but still has a long road to recovery.

“I expect that Mr. Dern will need a few more operations to complete closure of his burn wounds,” said Doctor William Dominic, “Recovery from burns of this magnitude is an ongoing process and can take years.”

Dominic thinks he may be able to leave the hospital for a rehabilitation center within a matter of weeks.

Dern’s story became national news because of the video of the accident and the frenzied effort to extract him from the garage.

Fire Chief Kerri Donnis said his protective gear likely saved his life.

“Protective gear is fire resistive, not fire proof. It played an instrumental role in protecting Pete. He was in that fire over a minute and thirty seconds. It played a significant role,” Donnis said.

Donnis says an outside investigation is underway to figure out what went wrong leading up to the accident and how to prevent it from happening again. She said that final report is still being worked on. 

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.