Mifflin Township Lt. Anthony Torres wants other amputees to realize their full capabilities by sharing his story.
Less than a year after his left leg was amputated below the knee following a motorcycle accident, Torres officially returned to active duty at Mifflin Township's Fire Station 132 on Agler Road on Feb. 25.
The 38-year-old was welcomed back by firefighters from all around central Ohio, as well as by friends and family who filled a service bay at Fire Station 131 on Rocky Fork Boulevard.
"I'm overwhelmed to see everyone here," Torres said. "It's truly incredible. You are your brother's keeper. I'm forever in your debt."
He told ThisWeek he wants amputees to know they can return to a normal life.
"I want them to know they can do this," he said. "With all the men and women coming back from war, this is something we can do."
After Torres was injured March 21, 2012, in an off-duty motorcycle accident, he was given the option to salvage his injured leg or amputate.
"To salvage my limb, it would be multiple surgeries throughout the year and a lot of pain," he said. "The doctor said there was a (significant) chance of infection the first year. It was a bad prognosis."
The other option was to amputate below the knee, with the prospect of being able to do 98 percent of what he could do before.
"It was a very easy decision in how it was presented," he said. "There was no other option."
At the time, Torres said, he pledged to be the state's first firefighter amputee, assuming no other amputees in Ohio had yet accomplished such a fete.
"After I said that, my firefighter friend put a piece of paper on the desk about a firefighter from Kansas who had the same injury," Torres said. "So that gave me hope and inspiration."
The career firefighter amputee was Earl Barnes from Kansas City. He visited Torres the day after he had his limb amputated.
"It was wild," Torres said. "This guy was moving around and doing all these things. He does a Half Ironman triathlon and does bicycle runs. He has been very inspirational to me."
Barnes also returned to Ohio on Torres' first day back on the job.
Andy Fey, president of the Firefighters Local 2818, said he had received a call about Torres' accident and found him "jovial but messed up" at Riverside.
On Torres' mind was a concern about a class of new firefighters he was scheduled to teach.
"Your perseverance helps me out when I've had a bad day," Fey said. "It's a big day for a driven individual and fire department."
Columbus Fire Capt. Greg Lash attended Torres' homecoming to lend moral support.
"To movie stars and sports stars, it's about them," Lash said. "For firefighters, it's about someone else."
Lash said he watched firefighters set up camp at Torres' hospital room.
"Once he knew it was possible (to return to his job), you knew that goal was going to be achieved," he said. "On Friday, he tested himself at the Ohio Fire Academy. I watched him. I thought, 'I wish I could move that (well).' "
Torres said March 21 was a life changer.
"When I think about that day lying on the road, I knew it was serious," he said. "I'll never forget hearing the sirens in the distance. I knew where they were coming from. They got closer and closer. It's that feeling.
"People have relief when sirens get closer and closer."
It was the Columbus Division of Fire's Medic and Engine 23 that came to his rescue.
"For me to have that ability to provide that same service and relief for other people, I feel blessed and happy," Torres said.
For the way other firefighters showed their belief in him throughout his recuperation, Torres said, no way could he have failed.
He said his wife, Stephanie, who's expecting their first child in June, is the most amazing person he has met in his life.
"So many people helped me and my family," Torres said. "I want them to understand that without them, I wouldn't be where I'm at."
He told ThisWeek he also found support through the Amputee Coalition of America, as well as through Army veteran Jason Sturm, who's a below-the-knee amputee.
Sturm has a CrossFit Rubicon business in Virginia, and he works with amputees at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"This guy is really in shape," Torres said. "I do a workout called CrossFit. It's kind of a cross between weight lifting and metabolic conditioning. Jason will come here and train with me in a couple months."
Torres is hoping to run in this year's Torres Trail 5K at a date to be determined.
Co-worker and friend Kenny King set up last year's 5K as a fundraiser for Torres.
"My goal is to run in it this year," Torres said. "I would like to have it as an awareness event, with proceeds going to an organization for amputees."
Torres said he's just getting back to his normal life.
"To think of myself as an inspiration, I don't see it that way," he said. "I'm ready to go back to work, without a doubt. I won't run a triathlon this year, but maybe next year. I'm a very active person. I can do everything I could before the prosthesis."
Torres said being a firefighter is more than a profession: "It's a way of life."
View photos online at Facebook.com/RockyForkEnterprise.