Firefighter faced flames in childhood

May 21, 1993|By Marlo Barnhart | Marlo Barnhart,Hagerstown Herald-Mail

HAGERSTOWN -- The flames that seared Tony Lida's body 11 years ago didn't scar his spirit, they tempered it.

Now 21, Mr. Lida is a volunteer firefighter who says being severely burned when he was 10 only made him more determined to protect other children from the same fate.

March 20, 1982, started out like any other day for Mr. Lida. A gasoline can, a burning pile of leaves and a careless moment combined to change his life forever. Flames creeped into the gas can, which exploded at the seam, engulfing him in flames.

Mr. Lida's Cub Scout training came back to him. Before help arrived, he stopped, dropped and rolled.

"I was five seconds away from burning up," he said.

Taken to a Baltimore hospital, he sustained second- and third-degree burns over 35 percent of his body. The burns stretched from his navel up his chest and face to his hairline and covered both arms.

For the next few years, Mr. Lida endured countless skin grafts and operations, first on his hands, which were so severely burned that he nearly lost them.

Skin from his stomach and thighs was removed to put on his disfigured face.

Infection and pneumonia teamed up to aggravate his condition for the first few months. There was the pain -- not so much from the burns themselves, but from the treatment to restore some skin to the more damaged areas.

He was on a respirator because the burns had made his body swell, and a tracheotomy was needed to ease his breathing and talking.

The operations are behind him now, but the memories are fresh.

He is often asked how he was able to overcome his fear of fire to become a firefighter and face flames again.

"First of all, anyone who isn't afraid of fire is nuts," he said. "I probably know better than anyone."

But most of all, Mr. Lida said he's in "the business" of saving people's lives and property because he feels it is his calling.

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