Out of Uniform: A Firefighter Pedals a Message of Safety
As a young kid, I always looked up to those, who at their best, could make a difference, helping those at their worst. Since the first grade, I was determined to become a firefighter, but in order to do so I needed to get in shape. A good friend convinced me to purchase my first road bike and before long, I found that cycling would become much more than just a workout — It was an enjoyable way of life. In 2009, I fulfilled my dream of becoming a full-time, structure firefighter.
Two years later, while out on a ride, I found myself on the receiving end of a “Right-Hook.” One motorist’s unsafe lane change forced a collision, putting me in the hospital. During that recovery, I felt compelled to do something, creating a campaign of awareness through Look! Save a Life / Arizona, which utilizes the catchphrase "Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility." The goal of Look! Save a Life promotes safety to both motorists and vulnerable users through education, raising awareness, and having an active part in the community. This is accomplished through visiting high schools and community events to speak out to new and seasoned drivers about the life-changing consequences of distracted driving. This is also achieved through active dialogue with cyclists to wear their helmets, encouraging them to follow the “rules of the road”.
On October 4, 2013, my girlfriend Lorena Evans — an ER nurse — and I went for a ride the morning of her birthday and were struck by a distracted driver. Once again I came remarkably close to losing my life to the very message I had been advocating. No matter how hard I try, I am unable to remember the very incident that left me incapacitated on scene. The official crash report states that while cycling in a “dedicated” bike lane, a vehicle traveling roughly 45 miles per hour struck us from behind.
The collision immediately ejected me, propelling me through the air. The impact exploded my bicycle into a multitude of fragments, scattering debris all over the road. Shoes that had been clipped into my pedals were hurled from my feet. The degree of damage sustained to my helmet was significant, but without it, I would have been killed.
The sirens heard screaming en route to our aid were in fact, co-workers from the very Fire Department I work for. I’m told, at first, they didn’t recognize me. The mechanism of injury required these trained professionals to kick into high gear, only later to realize they were treating one of “their own." They packaged my girlfriend and I in full-protective spinal precautions, immobilizing us to long backboards, transporting us separately to Southern Arizona’s, Level-1 Trauma Facility.
I remember waking up in a hospital bed with excruciating pain. I remember a cornucopia of wires, tubes, electrodes and multiple IV lines extending from my body. I remember the profound burning sensation from the deep abrasions, lacerations, and avulsions from sliding across the rough asphalt. I remember a team of doctors, nurses and therapists sitting me up for the very first time and I recall screaming from the piercing pain. This incident left me with serious injuries, a multitude of fractures, and an extensive 21-day stay in the hospital.
It's alarming to watch the news about cyclists or pedestrians struck by vehicles on a daily basis, and I was living the painful reality. Without knowing my own prognosis, a friend invited State Senator Steve Farley and State Representative Ethan Orr to my hospital room to discuss ways of making our public byways safer. We discussed education, modes of awareness, legislative changes, enforcement, and infrastructure. We agreed that this was and still is a bipartisan issue and that safety is everyone’s responsibility.