More than 55 days after he was hospitalized for burns to 50 percent of his body, Kevin O’Toole took his first steps into the sunlight Friday afternoon.
Boarding the same apparatus he rode on to the call that nearly took his life, the 21-year-old Bladensburg volunteer firefighter rode Fire Engine 809 back to the company station to ceremoniously “close the call” now that he has been released from hospital care.
“It feels good to be back,” he said to his fellow firefighters, who were helping him into the front seat of the engine.
O’Toole, of Bethpage, N.Y., was severely burned Feb. 24 while battling a house fire started by arson on 57th Avenue in Riverdale that remains under investigation. Six other firefighters sustained injures, but none were as bad as O’Toole’s, said Mark Brady, chief spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.
O’Toole was transported that night to the burn unit at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and had been undergoing rehabilitation and 10 skin grafting surgeries to his arms legs, knees, hands, stomach, sides and shoulder ever since.
“When they rolled me in here that night, I made a commitment that this wasn’t going to take me. I was going to fight my way through this and get back to who I was,” O’Toole said. “It’s a great accomplishment from being so badly injured to walking out of here in two months. It’s a great privilege to walk out and see everybody.”
About 15 firefighters, including Bladensburg Fire Chief Randy Kuenzil, were waiting for O’Toole outside of the hospital during his release Friday. Upon exiting the doors, the firefighters applauded him and greeted him for his first time outside since he was admitted.
“It feels great to see him back. He’s been one of my best friends for a long time,” said Bladensburg VFD Capt. Kyle Schultz, who said he knew O’Toole prior to O’Toole joining the Bladensburg company three years ago.
Kuenzil said it was the unwavering support from the region and country through donations, letters and company patches that led to O’Toole’s successful recovery.
“I got 38 years in the fire service, and I’ve never seen anybody in my entire life or career that has had the stamina to drive forward and put this all behind him and smile every day that I’ve talked to him, and just say that tomorrow is a new day and we’re going forward to tomorrow,” Kuenzil said. “The drive that he has is unparalleled by any means and definitely is an example of a true hero.”
O’Toole’s parents, who were at the hospital during his reunion with the fire company, declined to comment.
O’Toole said he will now go home to his parents in Bethpage where he will continue to recover at a local facility for burn patients and “take it from there.”
He said he has every intention to come back to the Bladensburg company and continue serving as a volunteer firefighter, but has to first see how well his body can recover.
The fire that was caused by arson is still under investigation.
Brady said the fire department is still offering up to $1,000 for anyone providing information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible.
He said apart from the ongoing fire investigation, a safety investigation report detailing what occurred from when the call came in to after the incident is being compiled and will be presented to Kuenzil before being released to the public.