Clark burned saving fellow firefighter

April 20, 2011

Volunteer firefighter Matt Clark is being treated at the Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas burn unit after being injured while battling a wildfire and helping a colleague to safety. Credit: WFAA

DALLAS (AP) — A Gorman volunteer firefighter hospitalized in a Dallas burn unit says he ran for his life after being caught in a raging wildfire.
Matt Clark, a native of Sweetwater and son of Sweetwater Police Sergeant Robert and Linda Clark, responded to a brush fire near his home in Gorman last week.
Clark, in a bedside interview Monday with WFAA-TV, said his crew was surrounded by flames. Clark says he and others "were at a dead sprint, trying to outrun the fire" and it was very scary.
Clark has only been a firefighter for six months. He's a volunteer. His full-time job is as a prison guard in Abilene.
But when a raging brush fire broke out near his home in Gorman on Friday, he answered the call with his chief.
Almost instantly, they were surrounded by the flames.
A blast of flames scarred his face with first degree burns. He suffered third degree burns to his hands.
The fire truck they were on was destroyed.
"It was very scary," Clark said from bed at the Parkland Memorial Hospital burn unit in Dallas.  "I’m not going to lie to you; I honestly did not think I would make it home."
And that's when he saw one of his fellow firefighters collapse.
"Actually, the burns weren't even hurting that much at that time. My thought was, 'I got to get out of here, and I got to take whoever I can with me,'" Clark said.
According to his father, Robert Clark, he had talked to Matt after he and his younger son, Lance Clark a deputy with the Fisher County Sheriff's Office, had returned from the Fisher County fire in Rotan last week. "I got home at about 1 a.m. on Friday and Matt called me and asked me if he needed to come over and help with the fire. I told him that everything was under control."
While resting, Robert Clark noticed on the news that another fire had broken out near Gorman and that a firefighter had been injured. "I called his wife, but the phone system was terrible and all I heard was 'Matt' 'burned' and 'hospital'."
According to Robert Clark, Matt had called his wife and told her to get their son and get out of the house because the entire area was being evacuated. He also told her that he was burned and that he would be going to the hospital. "The traffic was so thick that an ambulance could not get through to where he was and the helicopter could not fly due to the heavy smoke. Luckily, a highway patrolman put him in his car and took him to a county road to meet an ambulance," said Robert Clark.'
That his injured son stopped to help another doesn't surprise Robert Clark.
This father is a Sweetwater policeman; his other son is a deputy. His brother, nephew and two of Matt's in-laws are cops as well.
They all protect the public, never certain they'll make it home.
"Proud doesn't touch it; proud doesn't touch it," the elder Clark said. "He will always be my hero."
But at this point, Matt Clark's recovery is a struggle.
"We thought he'd get to go home Monday," Robert Clark said, "but the wounds are deeper than they thought, so they are going to keep him; they are infected."
Their thoughts also go to the Eastland firefighter who perished, just about a mile down the smoky road.
"We realize we were lucky," Matt's dad said. "There's a family in Eastland that wasn't. Maybe I can't say it. Our hearts are hurting for them."
Matt Clark will be hospitalized for at least another week. He has skin graft surgery scheduled for Wednesday.
The Department of Public Safety says a volunteer firefighter who died last Friday had been hit by a vehicle after fleeing a truck trapped in a wildfire-consumed pasture between Fort Worth and Abilene. A memorial service is Wednesday for Greg Simmons of Eastland.

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