Lincolnton Fire Department Capt. Joe Fletcher (right) with his son, Parker, 4, and his father, Boger City firefighter Louis Fletcher, courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard.
Joe Fletcher was hired full-time as a firefighter with the Lincolnton, North Carolina Fire Department when he was 20, was promoted to engineer a few years later and was promoted as captain 2016. Last November, he fell from his ladder while working on his gutters. The ladder moved, knocking him onto his deck, on the top of his backpack leaf blower.
“I got my senses together and did a quick self-check to see if I could get up but I had pretty extreme pain in my lower back so I knew I had done something but I wasn’t sure of the magnitude of what I’d done,” he said about the accident. “Thankfully, I had my cell phone in my back pocket and I called the fire station. Probably because he recognized my number, the assistant chief picked up the phone. I told him that I had fell from my roofline and I was hurt and needed someone to come and help me.”
Within minutes, his fellow firefighters arrived. Fletcher thought he just needed help standing up, but quickly realized the injury was more severe when he got a sharp pain up his back. He was transported the hospital strapped on a backboard to keep him from injuring himself more.
Two days after the accident, Fletcher had a surgery to put two rods on the outside of his backbone with four screws on each side. The rods were used to stabilize a lower back fracture. He then had physical therapy for three weeks.
Just before Christmas, Fletcher returned to work on light duty. He had to the fire department on light duty the week before Christmas, and was on light duty. In June, he had another surgery to remove the rods and screws and another three weeks of physical therapy. He was on light duty for a little while more and returned to his regular job on Aug. 8.
While Fletcher said that it never really crossed his mind that he wouldn’t be able to return to work, he was afraid that he would not be as good as he once was.
“I pretty much stayed in the mindset that I was coming back,” he said. “At 28 years old, I’m an eight-and-a-half-year veteran here in Lincolnton but, in my opinion, it’s way too early to end my career. So far it’s going good.”
We are glad this accident had a better outcome than some, but this accident most likely could have been prevented. The accident happened when his ladder slipped. The most common causes of a ladder slipping are setting the ladder at the wrong angle, using the ladder on a wet or slippery surface, or using a ladder with worn feet. The good news is that each of these causes can easily be prevented. Set your ladder at a 75.5 degree angle. Make sure the ground is dry before you climb. Replace worn ladder feet.
We are glad this firefighter was able to recover. Remember to climb safe!