Friends of Captain Pete Dern, 49, say he was always one of the bravest and led by example in dangerous situations. He is currently in critical condition but is responding to doctors.
Doctors say the 25-year Fresno Fire veteran severely burned 65 percent of his body when he fell through a burning building. "He is receiving very powerful intravenous pain and sedation medication but he is following commands and appears to be understanding what we are telling him and will do things when we ask him to do that," said Dr. William Dominic.
At a news conference on Monday, doctors described Dern's wounds as life-threatening. He's on a ventilator and will need intense care for months. "It is a very high likelihood that at some point during his hospitalization he will have a significant infection," added Dr. Dominic.
Colleagues say Dern chose to work at one of the busiest stations in the city and went to high-profile calls like the large fire which tore through University Village in Fresno State. He was also part of the team who saved Bullard High School student Shaela Warkentin from a 2011 car crash.
"Pete means a lot to the department. He is firefighter's captain. He is a leader among leaders in this department, well-respected, sound mind and judgement," said Chief Kerri Donnis.
Chief Donnis say she was one of many who Dern trained as they moved up the ranks. Minutes after he was rescued from the building, those same firefighters worked hard to save their respected mentor. "They all knew what had happened was very bad. Each and every one of them was concerned he might not make it out of the building," said Bob VanTassel, a family friend.
Investigators say the fire Dern was at started in a converted garage where several people were living. Dern is scheduled for surgery later this week.
Dern is expected to lose a lot of blood during his treatment. If you would like to help him, you can donate to the Central California Blood Bank.
RAW VIDEO: Firefighter falls through roof while battling Fresno house fire
WARNING: This footage contains material that some viewers may find disturbing due to explicit language and/or the graphic nature of the material. (Video courtesy: Sooji Lee)
There is an outpouring of support for Fresno Fire Captain Pete Dern, and much of that is coming on social media. First responders, community members and various public leaders are all sending their prayers and well-wishes to the Dern family and the fire department.
Using images of veteran Fire Captain Pete Dern in action, the Fresno Fire Association is asking for and thanking those offering their assistance during an extremely difficult time.
"It's overwhelming," said association president Pete Flores. "We got a call earlier from the San Jose Firefighters Association, they wouldn't take no for an answer. They're coming. They're going to help, and that's phenomenal."
Flores says it wasn't more than 30 minutes after the horrifying incident where Dern fell into a fully engulfed house fire that the association began getting calls offering help.
"Something as simple as ice drinks and snacks just to get the family and other members through the day," Flores said.
Online there are dozens of mentions, hundreds of comments, shares and retweets. All of them are expressing prayers and hopes of a quick recovery for Captain Dern.
One group organized a Facebook effort, calling for people to keep vigil each night and shine a light on their home in honor of Dern on April 5.
At the hospital, doctors and nurses are even overwhelmed by the support. "Seven fire trucks in the ambulance entrance, hundreds of firefighters coming together to try to support Pete and the family," said Sandra Yovino, a registered nurse and clinical director at the Leon S. Peters Burn Center, who has treated burn victims for more than 25 years.
She says it goes beyond the patient, to their family and in Captain Dern's case his fellow firefighters. "They will stay here around the clock," she said. "Someone will be with the family; someone will be with Pete until he makes his way home."
"We dedicate time to each other, off-duty as well as on-duty. We train together, we live together, we eat together," Flores said. "And we hurt together."
Anyone who would like to make a donation to Pete Dern and his family can do so by clicking here.