This article was originally published in Firefighter magazine which is published by the Fire Brigades Union.
The whole world becomes a challenge when a firefighter suffers injuries like those Andrew Adams sustained while fighting a fire. As he becomes the first beneficiary of the new Firefighters 100 Lottery, Andrew tells William Murphy how he relies on the support of his colleagues, his family and the FBU.
Severed spinal cord, fractured neck, three broken vertebrae, broken sternum, two fractured scapulae, punctured lung, broken collar bone, broken tibula, broken fibula, broken jaw in two places, broken ankle.
This is the catalogue of injuries that watch commander Andrew Adams suffered when a wall collapsed on him while he was tackling a fire in the early hours of 25 August last year.
He was one of 24 firefighters who responded to the blaze at the old Larkfield Masonic Association club in Renfrewshire, Scotland. The 49-year-old father of two can no longer walk and has no feeling below his chest.
Andrew is only grateful that his wife, nurse Clare Linning, was not on duty at Inverclyde Royal Hospital when he was admitted on the night of the accident.
He would not want her to see him in that condition. Andrew could, however, do nothing about the knock on the door of the family home from a duty officer at 3am that morning who broke the bad news to the family.
Clare rushed to Andrew’s side. He was soon transferred to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow where he spent two weeks in intensive care fighting for his life. It was only when doctors woke him up from a medically induced coma that he learned about his life-altering injuries.
Now out of intensive care and on a high dependency ward, Andrew’s focus is on his rehabilitation. He has a long, arduous journey ahead to try to improve his upper body strength, with twice daily intensive physical therapy sessions each weekday.
Andrew has also had to learn some skills so that he can lead his life as independently as possible. Some of these, such as learning to use a wheelchair, have been new skills, but he has also had to relearn the very basics to survive – drinking, eating and swallowing – things we normally do without thinking, that are as natural as breathing.
"The whole world becomes a challenge. Every doorway is a challenge," he says. “But it’s only half time in the game. There’s a long way to go. I’m starting to get out and about with it, but it will take time to build up the confidence to go out in the chair on my own," he says. “I need someone with me at the moment. This type of injury really does expose you."
Andrew made it out of his high dependency ward over the festive period so he could spend time with his family – but he could not go where he wanted to be – home.
The hallway of the former council house is too narrow for a wheelchair, and the house is not suitable for the costly adaptations required to make life easier for Andrew. Instead, his mother-in-law temporarily moved out of her home so the family could live together for the holidays. In the long run, the family will have to find a new home. The community has been rallying to Andrew’s side. Supporters of his local football team, Greenock Morton, gave a one minute round of applause in the 49th minute – he is 49 years old – at a recent match in a moving tribute to his bravery.
And. of course, the firefighting community has come together. Funds of £20,000 from the Firefighters 100 Lottery have been donated to Andrew and his family. They will be the first recipients of funds from the lottery since its first draw on 5 November last year.
"It was a fantastic effort by everyone involved," says general secretary Matt Wrack. “We take care of our own in the fire service."
Andrew said: “I want to thank everyone for their support – my family and my colleagues, and people from all over the country. It has given me the motivation to keep going. The fire service is like a family. We are always there for each other."
In spite of life changing, devastating injuries, Andrew is not bitter, even though it is now believed that the fire may have been started deliberately, with Crime Stoppers offering a £10,000 reward for anyone with information about who may be responsible for it.
Admirably, Andrew’s keep calm and carry on attitude prevails in the face of what is going to be a very different and challenging new chapter of his life. He concludes succinctly: “Deal with the challenges ahead; no point looking back."
Andrew Adams suffered life changing injuries whilst tackling a fire last year. Throughout 25 years of public service he kept his community safe and put the welfare of the public first. Now, he and his family need your help to get him through.
We will be donating all funds raised in January to help support Andrew and his family.
Support our firefighters - buy your tickets now
Read more about Andrew's story on the FBU site.