October 20, 2015 – “Beyond the Fire” Entry 1
Guest writer: Retired Fire Chief Matt Shobert
My name is Matt Shobert and I retired as Fire Chief from the Murrieta Fire Department (MFD) on December 30, 2014, after completing nearly 30 years in the Professional Fire Service with four departments across two states. Further, I had served as Fire Chief for two other jurisdictions prior to joining the MFD team. I have a Master’s Degree in Organizational Management, a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science. I am also a 2007 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program, have been four times accredited as a Chief Fire Officer Designee (CFOD).
Additionally, I completed the arduous 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run – “140.6” Ironman Arizona in Tempe on 11/17/13. My fitness level helped save my life on July 2, 2014.
I was nearly killed on the morning of July 2, 2014 and in the coming weeks and months, I will be discussing the troublesome aspects of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual recovery from my near fatal accident that lead to my premature exit from the fire service that was my life. That PTSD stuff you hear and read about is real!
On the morning of July 2, 2014, an Engine Company from MFD and I were invited to an urban interface area in Murrieta, CA to observe a brush clearing operation, due to the tenuous fire conditions in Southern California this time of the year. A simple spark could start a conflagration.
I arrived at the clearing operation prior to my Engine Company and a brush-clearing tractor was already clearing brush. I exited my Fire Chief’s vehicle with my Garmin weather device to check temperature, wind speed and humidity.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but at around 09:00 AM, the rock pictured above was launched a distance greater than half a football field, by a Bobcat with a commercial mower attachment. The rock (about the size of a deck of cards) struck me on the left jaw, just below the bottom corner of my mouth, ripping off the lower left side of my face and mandible.
I awoke face down in the dirt, unaware of what the hell was happening. The first thing I recall were my fingers and hands were numb and tingling. Was I stroking out? Was I having a heart attack? Why in the hell was I laying face down in the dirt?
I tried to get up and couldn’t. It was then that I noticed the profuse bleeding from the area of my face where my lower jaw used to be. I quickly figured out that I was bleeding to death. The Bobcat operator was nowhere in sight. I was alone and dying. I eventually made it to my feet and recalled a spare T-shirt in the back seat of my Tahoe. I stuffed it into the bottom of my face and drove my chief’s vehicle a few hundred yards to a maintenance shop. I held my face together with one hand and picked up my radio’s microphone with the other. In a garbled voice, I told my dispatch center that I thought I’d been shot in the face and needed immediate medical care.
My firefighters and dispatchers saved my life with quick action and critical care, Inland Valley Medical Center further stabilized me, Mercy Air flew me to Loma Linda UMC, where a team of surgeons worked for five and a half additional hours saving my life.
My fitness level, OCD (sic), and intuitive training assisted in my survivability. The doctors said, “98% of the general population would have died in the dirt that day.”
I have been through four comprehensive surgeries over the past 16 months. I suffered a minor TBI and struggle with PTSD (again, that stuff is real)! I have thought of suicide and struggle with my ongoing physical recovery, TBI and PTSD.
It is my hope and goal that sharing my story will help bring firefighter suicide, PTSD and stress issues to the forefront. We always preach physical fitness, but mental health is a private and dirty secret. Below on my retirement cake is my mantra that actually saved my life:
“Today’s physical, mental and emotional preparedness, determines tomorrow’s performance. Train like your life depends on it – because it does!” -Retired Fire Chief Matt Shobert