BILLINGS- Red Lodge firefighter Dan Steffensen has been through hell and back, but he’s not letting it dim his hopes for recovery or how he feels about a job he says he loves.
The veteran volunteer firefighter spent 60 days in recovery at a Salt Lake City hospital relearning to eat, walk and stretch. But it's all been worth it because he was released from the burn center Thursday and is heading back home to Montana next week.
He was fighting the Harris Hill Fire on July 6 when the winds shifted unexpectedly, and he was overrun by massive flames.
On Friday, he talked on Zoom from Utah about the ordeal he’s endured.
“The first 23 days I was in a coma,” he said. “After I came out of the coma, for the rest of that 37 days was focused on therapy.”
Steffensen lost 35 pounds and had nine surgeries. He suffered burns on his hands and legs and face.
“To be very honest, I wasn't sure that I really wanted to deal with it. And somebody at the hospital came to talk to me, who is also a firefighter, put it in fire terms, it made sense,” he said.
He’s fought fires across the Western United States. He says he’s been able to save homes and sadly lose homes. And when the Harris Hill Fire severely burned him on that July day, he says he barely even knew what had happened.
“Just like that we went from two-foot flame walls to 10-foot flame walls, and I could not get out of there,” he said.
But he’s been working hard to heal and become stronger.
“To be very honest, in week two, I tried to feed myself and could not do it. My hands couldn’t get there and I cried like a baby because I thought I'd never do it,” he said. “But the therapist said, just shut up, we'll get this fixed. And he did and now I could do just that.”
He’s taken his milestones and goals for recovery in strides and says what’s helped him heal so quickly has been the love and support he’s received from near and far.
“I never thought I could be blessed,” he said. “Red, Lodge, Carbon County, Montana, parts of the United States, people have sent me cards, sent me messages saying Dan I will pray for you, or Dan, we're praying for you. And I swear that helped me to get through this as quickly as I have.”
Steffensen will be back in Red Lodge next week after once last visit to the doctor, he says his recovery doesn’t end though when he gets home.
And as for his job? Steffensen says when he has his strength back, he hopes to be back to firefighting because he loves it.