Manassas Journal Messenger | Firefighter takes first steps toward recovery

Tony Carroll said he doesn’t remember anything about the accident.

Not the fall, not the pain and certainly not the impact at the bottom of the elevator shaft.

Carroll, a Washington, D.C., Fire Department lieutenant and an assistant chief at the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department in Prince William County, fell 30 feet from the second floor to the basement of the Marbury Plaza apartments in southeast Washington, D.C., on Jan. 11.

“Fortunately I think the mind does that kind of stuff, keeps you from maybe remembering the worst,” Carroll said.

The D.C. firefighters knew the fire from the natural gas explosion would require a lot of equipment and manpower, but it wasn’t anything they were unaccustomed to, Carroll said.

“The building was solid. We thought we were doing okay,” the 37-year-old said.

Carroll and his team went in to search for people trapped in the 11-story building, and to see if the fire was spreading.

The explosion, which occurred in the second-floor laundry room, had knocked the elevator doors off before Carroll and his team got there.

In the dark, Carroll mistook the open elevator shaft for an apartment.

“I really don’t remember my initial reaction,” said Carroll who started with the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer department when he was 15 and turned pro in 1992.

His first memory after the fall was of his coworkers coming to get him out.

It was odd having the tables turned like that, he said.

“It was kind of crazy. I do remember saying, ‘Is the fire out?’ ” he said.

A toddler was killed and 20 people were injured in the explosion and fire that displaced 100 people and caused $1.5 million worth of damage.

A broken vertebrae in his lower back, a broken rib and a small broken bone in his foot kept Carroll hospitalized for nine days.

The visits and the prayers from his fellow firefighters were what got him through, he said.

“The real person who has come through on this has been my wife. It’s put a real hardship on her,” he said.

Heather Carroll recalls that afternoon.

Her entire family — mother, father, brothers, in-laws and some friends from the area — were visiting at the Carroll’s Dale City home.

One of their friends in the fire department called to tell her.

“You could tell from his voice that something was wrong,” she said.

Her father took her to the Washington Hospital Center, but not before she sat down at the kitchen table and cried.

“It was the longest trip of my life,” Heather Carroll said

The Carrolls met at the volunteer fire department.

He was a firefighter.

She ran rescue.

Heather said her experience as a volunteer probably makes her more aware the dangers her husband faces daily.

“I think I do know more than the average fireman’s wife,” said the 33-year-old said.

“She’s exposed to a lot of that stuff,” Tony Carroll said.

It’s a knowledge that keeps her from watching news casts.

She turns off the television at night and doesn’t watch the news “unless he calls and says he’s on TV,” Heather Carroll said.

Each year approximately 100 firefighters are killed while on duty and hundreds of thousands are injured, said statistics at

Carroll said he plans to return to the department once he’s healed.

He’ll have to wear a body cast for weeks and then start rehabilitation.

He can walk around with a cane and he can play sedately with his three daughters.

Playing on the floor with the girls, who are 3 months, 4 and 8 years old is hard but he manages.

Reading and computer games fit the bill best, but he’s missed some winter fun this year.

“As far as getting out and sledding with them, I’m not up for that,” he said.

Firefighters in the D.C. department have a pool betting when Carroll will return to work.

The shortest time someone picked is three months. The longest a year.

Carroll said he plans to make the holder of the three-month pick the winner.

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