It’s a day Chris Zimmerman will never forget.
On July 8, 2017, the Kelowna firefighter was inside a burning condo building under construction on Truswell Road when he got seriously hurt.
“I’m pretty happy to be here,” Zimmerman told Global News.
Zimmerman, the son of former fire chief Gerry Zimmerman, sustained third-degree burns to both his hands and second-degree burns to his back and calves.
He was away from work for two-and-a-half years, and, in that time, underwent 13 surgeries.
The 42-year-old and father of three was injured after getting trapped in a stairwell.
“I didn’t think at that point I was getting out of that stairwell,” he said. “I remember seeing the explosion and all I thought about was I’m dead in a stairwell.”
Zimmerman, along with three crew members, was on the top floor of the five-storey building when, all of a sudden, he noticed smoke coming from the bottom of the stairwell.
He instructed the others to stay put while he went to investigate but he became trapped when smoke started to fill the stairwell.
“I lost visibility. I went to put out a Mayday . . . and my radio had fallen off the tab off my coat, so now no visibility, your mic is hanging on a cord,” Zimmerman said. “I just dumped my gloves to feel the coil of the cord. When I dumped my gloves, I actually got the mic and I had it in my hand . . . the explosion caught me and blew me up into the ceiling.”
Despite being seriously hurt, Zimmerman managed to crawl up a flight of stairs to his crew members.
One of them was Troy Manchur.
“Within seconds, we went from about 30 feet of visibility to zero visibility,” Manchur said. “You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.”
Fortunately, the four firefighters managed to find a window and were eventually rescued by a ladder truck.
Manchur, who’s also the local union president, said the job does come with risks.
“Every day is an unknown,” Manchur said. “We kiss our loved ones goodbye in the morning and we hope we see them at night.”
Despite the frightening ordeal and long recovery, Zimmerman said it’s still a job he loves and one that — with his father being a former firefighter and chief himself — has always been front and centre.
“I grew up in these halls as a kid,” Zimmerman said. “It’s been part of my life, my whole life.”