Firefighter: 'I could hear my bone grinding'

EYE ON TRAINING

The Feb. 14 training accident of Victoria firefighter Ray Gregory spawned a review and some changes in the department's safety procedures and standards during training exercises for technical rescue teams, said Fire Chief Taner Drake.

"We want to make sure we pay close attention to safety," he said. "That's a priority."

Training in the fire department could also get a boost from a proposed new $700,000 training facility under consideration by the City Council. If construction contracts are approved, the building could be operational by November, Drake said.

If approved, the new training facility would be built on a portion of the 80 acres that will also accommodate the city's new wastewater treatment plant on the corner of Odem Street and Hand Road.

"It would be a great stride for training in the department. We want to give our guys the skills set they need to operate in any environment," Drake said.

Ray Gregory knows he is a lucky man.

Gregory, the Victoria firefighter who fell about 50 feet while rappelling from a building last month during a training exercise, said a few feet farther and he would have landed on concrete and not in the shrubbery that helped break his fall.

"My injuries would have been a lot worse. I could have been paralyzed or even died," Gregory said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

The fall was bad enough as it was.

"It was a freak accident. I was lowering myself down to play the role of victim for our training," he said. "I lost control and down I went."

Gregory is a member of the department's High Angle Rescue Team that was going through re-certification training on Feb. 14.

Gregory estimates he fell about 50 feet "quite fast" and hit feet first.

"I didn't know how badly I was hurt until I rolled over. I could hear my pelvic bone grinding. I knew something wasn't right," said Gregory, an eight-year veteran of the Victoria Fire Department.

Gregory suffered a cracked pelvis, a fractured pubic bone and two compression fractures to his spine.

"The neurosurgeon said the lumbar injuries aren't serious. I am able to get around using a walker like crutches and a wheelchair, but can't put any weight on my right leg," said Gregory, who will need six more weeks of bed rest before starting physical therapy.

In surgeries at Methodist Hospital in Houston, doctors put two screws in his pelvis and a plate and six screws in the pubic bone. Gregory returned home on March 9.

"They expect a full recovery," Gregory said.

The 43-year-old knows that he is also lucky that his fellow firefighters were nearby.

"The crew responded quickly to take care of me," said the New Jersey native who moved to Victoria in 1995.

That care has continued since the accident.

"The support from the fire department and from Man-to-Man has been overwhelming," he said. "I haven't had to worry about anything."

His co-workers pitched in and bought the former U.S. Marine a new recliner when he returned home from the hospital.

"I was overwhelmed," Gregory said. "I wasn't expecting anything like that. I wasn't expecting all that they are doing."

Fire Chief Taner Drake said Gregory's injury has helped bring the department closer together.

"The whole department has reached out to him," the chief said.

Gregory works the B Shift at Station 2, but each shift and station in the department looks for ways to assist Gregory and his family.

Some have provided meals for the family since his return and others built a handicap ramp at his home, Drake said.

His family has also been a pillar of strength - his wife Holli Gregory, who works for a private ambulance service, his children, three boys 16 and 18 at home and the oldest, 19, a U.S. Marine like his father, and Gregory's mother, who has been in from Florida for about a week and half. She is returning home this weekend.

"I can't say enough about what they mean to me," he said.

Something else that means a lot to him is getting back to work.

He hopes to return to work as soon as possible.

Gregory is on worker's compensation leave, said Cheryl Marthiljohni, human resources director for the city of Victoria.

"We're rooting for him. I know he's ready to get back to work," Drake said, calling Gregory a valuable member of the fire department's Band of Brothers.

"He's got the spirit of a lion. He's an inspiration to me. He has had a positive outlook from the word go. It's heartwarming."

In addition to the High Angle Rescue Team, Gregory is a member of the department's Swift Water Rescue and Bike Medic Team. He also serves on the VFD Honor Guard.

Gregory tried to be realistic about the timetable for his return to work.

"Hopefully after physical therapy, I'll be able to start back on light duty," he said. "Right now, I have to sit here and let my bones heal."