Firefighters Critically Hurt in Apartment Explosion Last Year Returned to Work on Tuesday

Four firefighters were hurt including three who were critically injured. Two of them returned to work while one continues to recover.

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Tuesday morning firefighters at Station 25 in Dallas welcomed back two of their own after they were critically injured when an apartment in Oak Cliff exploded and collapsed one year ago this week.

Capt. Christopher Gadomski and Engineer Ronald Hall returned to work after a long road to recovery.

"We've had hours and hours of endless physical therapy and rehab. Being in the hospital for three months took a lot out of our lives," said Gadomski, who has been with Dallas Fire-Rescue for 23 years. "Being able to come back is bittersweet, for sure, because I don't think any of us ever thought we would come back. I know myself, I never thought I would be a firefighter again."

Three firefighters, GadomskiEngineer Ronald Hall, and Officer Pauline Perez, were severely burned and permanently injured as a result of the natural gas explosion at the Highland Hills Apartments in Oak Cliff on Sept. 29, 2021.

"I don't know how I didn't die from the flying debris. I mean, you saw my body had looked like it'd been through a war zone," recalled Hall, who has been with the department for 37 years.

He said he saw Perez in the apartment when they were getting ready to evacuate and when he went to get her.

"I was just like, 'I got to get her out of there,' of course as soon as I stepped in the door, it blew," said Hall. "I knew what had happened and I didn't expect to live through it.”

Hall said he received second-degree burns over 45% of his body.

"I’m burnt up and don’t feel it, I’m the guy that you read about in the paper a couple of days later," he said, knowing from his experience that it wasn't looking good.

"Then when I heard Captain Gadomski, because he was trapped, so even though I was burned I wasn't hurting, and I'm like, ‘Hold on Captain, I'm coming," he said.

"So when I told Captain I was coming, once I pushed the debris off of me, the first step I went to take, that's when I felt the pain and I realized my leg was broken. It was just hanging on by the skin. So I had to bail out on Capt. I said, 'OK, I'm not coming,' then I felt pretty bad about that, but I just knew there was nothing I could," explained Hall who said he walked on his broken leg to try and get help.

Gadomski said his legs were blown from the blast and he's undergone 15 surgeries so far.

"There were days, I’d be honest with you, death would have been easier for sure," said Gadomski, who powered through.

“I mean more human will than anything, I mean pushing on and doctors telling you it's going to be this long and myself said no," said Gadomski who was in a wheelchair. "There's a lot of people out there that give up, I was going to fight to be back no matter what."

He said he is scarred for his life by the burns, but loves his job and couldn't wait to come back.

"The adrenaline is there, every run we go on you never know what's going to happen. Obviously, we had a bad run (that day), but coming back is incredible," he said.

As for Hall, he changed his mind when he heard the captain was coming back. Just a month ago he had a third surgery on his knee, this time for a torn meniscus. This past Friday he said he felt like he had a "new knee" and was able to get a doctor's note to return to work.

"Well, it's had no intentions of coming back, but this is something that's addicting," said Hall about his love of being a firefighter. "My wife, she’s not really happy with me being here right now, but the way I look at it, when it’s your time, it’s your time, and this is where I need to be today, I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, but I still feel like I have something to offer by getting on that fire engine and driving."

As for Perez, it's unclear when she'll return as she's still recovering. In a statement, Perez said:

"At the moment there is no word on my return. Doctors still have multiple surgeries pending that will happen within the next couple of months. My hopes are to return to full duty but I can't rush the recovery process. Taking it day by day, week by week, and month by month. Third-degree burns to your hands are no easy recovery but I'm making the most of my second chance at life."

Earlier this year the three firefighters filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex.

According to the lawsuit, initial investigation reports indicate that the gas leak inside the unit was likely caused by a bullet from a domestic violence incident on the property prior to the explosion.

The lawsuit said the alleged shooter entered the property and shot multiple rounds near Unit 129 from the outside.

The alleged shooter was identified and arrested for causing the leak, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, while the bullet may have caused the initial gas leak, the bullet did not cause the explosion.

A fourth firefighter, Officer Andrew Curtis, was also injured that day, but suffered only minor injuries.

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