A tragic accident pushes a Lawrence Fireman to do more

TOPEKA, Kan, (WIBW) -- Lieutenant Earl Barnes dreamed of being a fireman.

“You know we loved watching the garbage truck go by and thought man they get to ride on the back of the truck. Well fire trucks get to do that too, and that looks a lot more fun,” he said.

Now entering his 23rd year on the job with the Lawrence Fire and Medical Department, he’s a jack of all trades.

He’s a crime scene investigator for the coroner’s office.

“I kind of help save the lives around the person who died. We’re the first step in helping them through their grieving process,” Lt. Barnes explained.

He’s also a paramedic that teaches within the training division.

“We’ll go right into their trachea and this comes out and we’re able to breathe for people who are not able to breathe on their own,” Lt. Barnes explained while demonstrating on a dummy.

However one day in 1997 almost changed everything.

“All of a sudden I’m riding and then I see blue sky and blue sky before I landed,” Lt. Barnes said.

He was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by another vehicle severely injuring his right foot.

“Luckily there were some law enforcement officers that I knew just a few cars back. They say the incident, they pulled over, and they stopped right away,” he remembered.

His Captain, Pat Talkington, was one of the first officers on scene.

“I started treating him, and I looked up and actually saw who it was, and I realized it was Earl. And it just kind of changed the complexity of it considerably and we all felt a little more anxious. And our heart rates went up, and it just became really more personal at that time because it was somebody that we knew,” he said.

Lt. Barnes did not realize the extent of his injury until hours later.

“I remember waking up and this very tall nurse, he was just a big hulk of a guy but had this very gentle voice. And it was one of those deep deep voices that you hear and think am I dreaming. You know what is this? He was the first one to tell me and say hey so you know we had to amputate your foot,” he remembered.

Lt. Barnes is a below the knee amputee.

Some said his career as a fireman was over, but with the help of physical training and his prosthetist, he’s proved otherwise.

“This is great. I can jump off of the fire truck and land pretty well,” he said about his prosthesis.

Lt. Barnes now wears another hat. He encourages others to keep going.

“He’s just one of those guys that you just kind of look at and he’s one of my heroes just for everything he’s done to overcome adversity, and he can show anybody that it can be done,” Capt. Talkington added.

Lt. Barnes said nothing will let him get in the way of doing what he does best.

“You don’t have to give up what you love you know just because you’re an amputee,” he said.

Lt. Barnes is just one of few amputees within his field. He says his injury pushed him to keep up with his co-workers.