FLORENCE: Seriously injured fireman returns

Brian Richardson named fire marshal

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
   FLORENCE — It’s been a year and a half since fireman Brian Richardson was severely injured in an explosion caused by a tractor-trailer fire on Interstate 295.
   He returned to work Oct. 15 and soon after, was appointed fire marshal; he was a provisional fire marshal for the past four years.
   ”All and all, I’m very fortunate given the severity of what happened,” Mr. Richardson said. “It could be far worse.”
   ”It’s been a long hard fight, and he’s doing great,” his wife, April, said. “We are both very glad for him to be back to work.”
   ”I have been fortunate to know Brian since he was in high school,” said Mayor Craig Wilkie in an email Nov. 14. “He is a great person who is committed to serving God and his community.”
   Mr. Richardson joined the department in December 1996 as a trainee and became a fireman in June 1998.
   ”He has been involved ever since,” Mayor Wilkie added.
   ”We, as a department, are very glad that our prayers have been answered for Brian and his family for him to be able to return to work,” said Florence Township Fire Department Chief Keith Scully in an email Nov. 13.
   ”It is absolutely great to have Brian back,” Chief Scully said. “He brings joy and humor back to the station. First day back, he dove right in and started to repair things on the trucks and the building. Brian is a vital link to the members and the department. He is a guy that can do everything if asked, too.”
   Mr. Richardson officially returned to work Oct. 15 on a shortened hourly schedule put in force by his doctors, according to Chief Scully.
   ”During this time, his doctors wanted him to go through training,” Chief Scully said. “This was to find out if there would be any issues of him doing the job.”
   According to Mr. Richardson, he returned and did some general orientation and several trainings, including a live fire training, smokehouse training, SCBA confidence training and fit testing, which is required annually.
   ”I was still restricted from the doctors,” said Mr. Richardson, adding he could only drive on calls. “I wasn’t allowed to do any firefighting. That was my only restriction.”
   The incident that changed his life happened May 31, 2011.
   ”I don’t remember anything,” Mr. Richardson said. “I have absolutely no recollection of the accident.”
   Thirteen days do not exist for him. He cannot remember two days before the accident, the day of the incident and the following 10.
   ”I remember none of the trauma center, the neuro ICU, and when I started coming to (cognitively around), I was in the St. Lawrence Rehab in Lawrenceville,” Mr. Richardson said.
   Both Mr. Richardson, his wife and Mayor Wilkie could not say enough about the Trenton Fire Department, which stepped up to support fellow firefighters.
   According to Mr. Richardson, before he even landed at Helene Fuld, the Trenton Fire Department already had its truck there waiting because it didn’t want “a fellow firefighter to be alone.”
   ”We had Trenton Fire Company the whole time we were at the hospital feed us breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Ms. Richardson said. “Within a couple hours of us being there, they had pizzas and coolers full of drinks for everybody that was there, and they kept that up the whole time we were in the hospital.”
   According to Ms. Richardson, the Florence Township Fire Department helped do gardening around his farm.
   ”They were always there if I needed them,” Ms. Richardson said.
   ”From that terrible moment to today, the members of the fire company and the community have been there to support him, his wife and family,” Mayor Wilkie said. “The department honored the Trenton Fire Department because from the day he arrived at the hospital until he was moved out, they were there to support their every need.”
   Mr. Richardson was among seven Florence firefighters injured after a blaze blew open the back doors of a tractor-trailer, which then became fully engulfed in flames along the side of the highway. The firefighters had responded to the scene after a report came in that the truck, carrying produce, was on fire.
   Six of the injured firefighters were treated and released from area hospitals the night of the explosion. However, Mr. Richardson’s injuries were severe, and he remained in critical condition for several days.
   According to Mr. Richardson, he was “cleared medically” from the doctors Nov. 5, his first official full day.
   ”The first call I went on, ironically, was on 295 at 52.3 northbound,” Mr. Richardson said, adding that the truck fire that injured him was at the 51.8 mile post.
   ”It’s kind of funny,” he said. “It’s the one I went out on, and it’s the one I came back on.”
   According to Ms. Richardson, he’s been “excited” to return to work.
   During the past year and a half, he kept busy at his farm. In addition, he continued with physical, cognitive, speech and eye therapy.
   ”I still do my eye therapy at home,” Mr. Richardson said adding he will do that “probably” till the end of the year.
   ”I am hoping for a little more improvement,” he said, adding the doctors are still waiting to figure out where his eye “will land.” He will need to buy new glasses when that is determined, he said.
   ”It’s (his eyesight) not going to be what it was,” he said.
   His therapy will continue once a week until the end of January.
   ”Some of my deficits are word finding,” Mr. Richardson said, “but I catch myself.”
   Now he finds himself carrying a personal gas meter after losing his sense of taste and smell.
   ”I never leave home without it,” Mr. Richardson said. “It’s one of my coping mechanisms.”
   ”You walk into a room and smell gas,” Mr. Richardson said. “I don’t.”
   He said he has learned the hard way after letting his dog in the house who was sprayed by a skunk on several occasions.
   ”Now he knows that if the dog is down on the ground, like rolling around, he knows that something is wrong, and he will call me,” his wife said.
   After the explosion, the Florence Fire Department placed donation jars at different businesses throughout the community for Mr. Richardson and his fellow firefighters.
   ”The department helped support Brian and his family in numerous ways,” Chief Scully said. “Members of the department went to his house and cared for the yard, weeding cut grass, etc. We even took care of his father’s yard a few times due to him being at the hospital with Brian. Several of his union brothers also assisted with helping out (IAFF 3091). If his wife, April, needed anything, we were there for her. Members of our department walked her through all and any paperwork that may needed to filed for the hospitals, etc.”
   ”I would like to thank the residents of the town for all their outpourings,” Mr. Richardson said.
   According to Mr. Richardson, he received a lot of letters and cards, especially from the schools.
   ”I saw I knew there was a brotherhood, but I never knew what it was like ‘til that happened,” Ms. Richardson said.
   Mayor Wilkie also acknowledged that special connection.
   ”The brother/sisterhood of the fire service runs deep” Mayor Wilkie said. “All should take a moment to thank God for people like Brian and the men and women he serves with. Our only hope is that more people would consider volunteering for the fire service.”
   After four years of serving as provisional fire marshal, Mr. Richardson was sworn in as fire marshal after returning to work. He was appointed to the interim position April 1, 2009.
   In attendance was his mother and father, members of his union and all of the chief officers of the Fire Department — Chief Scully, Chief Kevin Mullen and Chief Steve Taylor — and several members of the department.
   ”This was a long time coming,” Chief Scully said.