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Firefighter recovers after falling 15 feet through burning barn roof

Sam Eberhart recovering with physical therapy

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CLARE, Mich. – A firefighter who fell 15 feet through a burning barn roof in Clare is recovering from several broken bones.

Sam Eberhart, 33, was battling a fire at the barn when he fell 15 feet onto a concrete floor.

"It was instant pain," Eberhart said. "It was the first time I had ever broken a bone. There was no comfort. No nothing. Just pain all around."

Eberhart fractured the front and back of his pelvis in three places. The injuries were complex enough that he was taken to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, a Level I Trauma Center.

"Injuries like these can be limb- and life-threatening," Beaumont orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jason Sadowski said. "There could be bladder injuries and extreme blood loss."

Doctors said Eberhart's willingness and determination to do intense physical therapy exercises allowed him to avoid surgery.

"It was surprising," Eberhart said. "I was expecting the worst-case scenario. When the doctor told me I could do physical therapy, I felt like I had more control. It’s not always a fun process, but it’s in my hands."

Several days later, an ambulance from Clare picked him up and drove him home to continue his physical therapy and healing.

On the drive home, Eberhart looked out the back window and saw a Coleman Fire Department truck pull up behind the ambulance. Minutes later, multiple other fire departments, sheriff's officers, police and ambulances pulled in line to escort him home. The line stretched for more than a mile.

"I was crying. I won’t deny it. It made me realize how much more there is to fighting fire than people realize. It’s the connection you have with the other guys," Eberhart said. "I have been doing this for 12 years. I bawled my eyes out and got a whole new appreciation for it."

When they arrived at Eberhart's home, 75 firefighters stood in his driveway fighting over who would carry him into the house.

"I'm learning things about my body and how bones heal that I didn’t know," Eberthart said more than a month after the incident. "I have lots of questions for my doctors and therapists. That’s my nature. It’s been educational and helps me realize how things are improving."

He returned to Beaumont for a follow-up appointment a few weeks ago.

"I can tell Sam has been putting in a lot of effort to heal from his injuries. His prognosis looks good," Sadowski said.

Eberhart’s goal is to be back at work within the next three or four months.

"I can’t thank the community enough for all the support," Eberhart said. "The only way I know how to thank them is to go back out and keep doing what I’ve been doing. I have to get back out there. They’re counting on me."