Nearly two months ago, L.A. Fire Department Capt. Victor Aguirre was severely injured alongside 11 other firefighters when a smoke shop exploded in downtown Los Angeles.
Doctors initially thought they would have to amputate Aguirre’s hands because of the critical injuries he suffered, but on Tuesday — 65 days after that tragic day in May — the veteran firefighter walked out of L.A. County USC Medical Center using both of his hands to embrace the LAFD firefighters who lined the pathway out of the hospital.
“I didn’t expect this. Thank you so much guys, I couldn’t have done it without you guys or my wife… everybody,” Aguirre said.
The fiery explosion at Smoke Tokes, a distributor and wholesaler of smoking and vaping products, broke out on the evening of May 16. Responding firefighters entered on the ground while others climbed up on a ladder to try to ventilate the roof, an LAFD official said at the time of the blaze.
Firefighters soon heard a rumbling, high-pitched sound which prompted a “Mayday” distress call for everyone to get out. Then suddenly, an explosion sent flames and smoke into the sky.
Firefighters had to “go through a fireball” when they were coming down the ladder, officials said. The fire was so intense it melted firefighters’ helmets and charred fire engines.
Aguirre, a veteran with more than 20 years on the job, was the last man down the ladder, and was engulfed in flames. That night, he was working overtime. He suffered third degree burns on both hands.
“He never once gave up hope or lost courage or lost the end of the road during this whole course,” Dr. Justin Gillenwater of the USC Medical Center Burn Unit told KTLA.
Although Aguirre still has a long recovery ahead, on Tuesday he said he was determined to get back to serving the city he loves.
“I will be back at work,” Aguirre said, overwhelmed with emotion, while his fellow firefighters applauded and cheered him on.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help Aguirre, his wife and two children during the recovery process.