The Fresno, California, firefighter who suffered serious burns on a majority of his body after falling through a roof while responding to a house fire Sunday will be likely be hospitalized for more than two months under the best of circumstances, his primary doctor said Monday.
The harrowing moment when Fresno Capt. Pete Dern fell through a roof and into flames, which leapt the moment the roof collapsed, was recorded on a neighbor's cellphone.
Fresno Fire Department Capt. Robert VanTassel said in a statement Monday that Dern was rescued by fellow firefighters within minutes, but he still suffered second and third degree burns on at least 65 percent of his body.
Dr. William J. Dominic, the director of the Burn Center at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, said during a news conference Monday that Dern is at risk for severe lung damage due to smoke inhalation and will likely contract an infection. Skin grafting will be difficult, Dominic said, since such a large portion of Dern's body is burned.
"He had burns that went all the way around his extremity," Dominic said. "We’ll be taking care of Mr. Dern for a long time," he added. Dominic said Dern was in critical condition after an initial surgery Sunday and was receiving enough pain medication to make him "comfortable but not totally comatose."
VanTassel said during the briefing that Dern was an Army helicopter pilot and a 25-year veteran of the Fresno Fire Department. He is also the father of a college-aged daughter who is "very proud of him," Vantassel said.
Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis called Dern "a leader among leaders," who she said has probably trained most of the firefighters currently at the department. "We’re hoping this is a near-miss as opposed to a line of duty death," she said.
— Elisha Fieldstadt