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Minneapolis firefighter Jake LaFerriere suffered serious injuries from a house explosion in 2010: third- and fourth-degree burns across his hands and arms, cracked ribs and a broken left foot. He laid in a burn unit for six weeks, immobile and thought his career was over.
But through the pain, he found his life's purpose.
After meeting two young siblings who were receiving care at the same time, LaFerriere says their perseverance inspired him to help start the nonprofit Firefighters For Healing following his recovery.
In honor of the group's work, LaFerriere, 40, is being recognized Friday night with the inaugural Red Bandanna Hero Award from the American Heroes Channel, a cable network spinoff of the Discovery Channel, and in partnership with Boston College.
LaFerriere told NBC News that it was the siblings, ages 3 and 5, who truly encouraged him.
"They were burned really badly," he said. "Their mom lost their job and they were living in a tent, and the 3-year-old was playing with a lighter. Both of them sustained burns [on] 40 percent of their bodies."
Watching the children go through the agonizing act of changing their dressings pushed LaFerriere on his own grueling road to recovery — one that has included 12 surgeries and multiple skin grafts.
"They’re my angels," he said. "They helped me to get through my treatment."
"The one thing that Jake provides is hope and comfort to these kids and their families."
Firefighters For Healing was founded by LaFerriere and other firefighters who have experienced burn injuries. The group supports child burn victims during prolonged hospital stays. In addition to donating money to such facilities and to survivors during their recovery, the members personally visit the children in the hospital.
"The one thing that Jake provides is hope and comfort to these kids and their families," said Melissa Mowery, a longtime friend and co-founder of the organization. "You can't put a value amount on hope."
The Red Bandanna Hero Award pays tribute to Welles R. Crowther, an equity trader and volunteer firefighter who died in Lower Manhattan during 9/11. On that morning, Crowther was seen with a red bandanna wrapped around his nose and mouth, helping other people trapped on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center.
He is credited with helping several victims escape the building before running back in to assist others.
LaFerriere, who retired as a firefighter last November, will be honored with the award at Boston College — Crowther’s alma mater — during the football game against Florida State.
He said he is accepting it on behalf of other courageous heroes such as Crowther.
"Not everybody is going to get an opportunity to run into a building to save people," LaFerriere said. "But people like Welles that live selflessly and help others in need — that’s a hero."