Last Updated: Friday, 11:55 a.m.
June 22 update: Mike Pius posted the following note on his Facebook page Friday morning: “Thanks for all the positive thoughts. I miss tryout all and it is so great to be involved with some of the very best people in this world. Later.”
June 21 Update: Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito provided the following updates on Mike’s condition, after speaking with him today:
“Mike is doing better now that his femur is pinned and the rod is in place to help alleviate the pain. He is now able to sit up and is taking in food and drink. Mike is amazed at the support he is receiving and is in great spirit. The surgery to repair the Tibia will probably happen on Monday. Mike will need to have his jaw repaired following the Tibia surgery. The surgeon told him that they will place braces on his teeth and wire his jaw shut to help set the bone set that is fractured right at the hinge.
“The crews are visiting Mike on a regular basis and are taking turns ensuring the family is being fed. They are cooking meals or purchasing them and delivering to the family to help mom and dad.”
June 20–Not three weeks ago Lt. Mike Pius, the Flagler County firefighter-paramedic, was celebrating another championship win with his team, the third in the last four years, in an annual international paramedic competition hosted by the the Czech Republic.
Last night, after seeing his brother’s band in performance in St. Augustine, Pius was coming home on his scooter when a truck cut through his right of way on State Road A1A at State Road 312. Pius slammed into the truck. He was airlifted out to Orange Park Medical Center southwest of Jacksonville with severe injuries and broken bones.
Pius, 29, was in surgery most of the afternoon today. He’ll be in surgery again in coming days. But he’s been mending, and he will recover, though he may not be back at work for six months.
“He’s doing OK,” Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito said late this afternoon. “I went up and saw him today, and he’s got a couple of fractures, femur, tibia and his jaw. He got banged up pretty good. He’s in good spirits. He was actually joking around with the staff there and double checking the treatment, since he is Mike Pius the paramedic.”
He went into surgery early this afternoon and got his left femur repaired. When the swelling goes down, he’ll go back to surgery for his right tibia. Yet he reacted to the accident with the same demeanor that’s made the popular firefighter he’s been: “Everything he does, he wants to benefit as many people as he can,” Petito said. “Everybody loves him and he’s one of the nicest guys. A good example is when I went to see him in the hospital, one of the first thing he said is ‘how’s the guy in the truck that I hit, is he OK?’ That’s while he’s laying in bed all banged up.”
Blake Aaron Benedict, 18, of St. Augustine, was driving the black 2010 GMC pickup that cut in front of Pius’s 2006 Yamaha moped. Charges are pending against Benedict.
Pius “does just about everything” in the department, including service on the technical rescue team and the marine rescue team.
The news naturally came as a shock to his friends and colleagues, particularly Dennis Kline, also a firefighter-paramedic and the second half of the core championship team that’s won all the awards (along with several other paramedic-firefighters who’ve been in and out of the team). Kline got the call five minutes after the accident before midnight last night. He had to do what paramedics aren’t programmed to do: sit and wait, nervously, unable to do anything, for news of Pius’s well being. He worried over “just not knowing, and not wanting to lose another friend,” Kline said.
Just two years ago, the Flagler County Fire Rescue (FCFR) community mourned the loss of Ranse Jones, like Pius a winsome athlete with a radiant personality that affected those who knew and worked with him. Jones’s thing was beach volleyball, in which he competed as fiercely as Pius has competed in paramedic competitions. He suffered an aneurysm in the middle of a semifinal match in Panama City two years ago, and never woke up from a coma. His loss still affects his colleagues.
“The first thing that went through my head was Rance Jones all over again,” Petito said, recalling the phone call that woke him up with the news of Pius’s accident last night.
But, Petito said, the “firefighter brotherhood,” as he calls it, is alive and well. He described what he meant in a moving letter he was compelled to write and send to all the Flagler firefighters as well as to colleagues in St. Johns and Flagler County, and to county officials, including County Administrator Craig Coffey.
“The minute the accident occurred, the firefighter brotherhood kicked in,” Petito wrote. “We were notified by St. Johns County Fire Rescue a short time after the accident while Mike was being loaded into the helicopter for transport. Shortly after, I was contacted by St. Johns County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Joel Sneed to inform me one of our own needed help. After Mike arrived at the hospital, a Clay County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief responded to the hospital to check on the status of Mike and to relay that info back to us. Mike’s Mom and Dad were both able to get to the accident site before he was transported and were directed to the hospital. Our Medical Director, Andrew Coleman, who is on vacation in Costa Rica, intervened by contacting the trauma surgeon to check on Mike’s status.”
Petito summarized the extent of Pius’s injuries and noted that he would likely be out for about six months, then continued: “A little more than 12 hours following the accident, FCFR came together to help a brother. All FCFR Lieutenants committed to work one shift each until Mike is able to return to work. The schedule has been completed and six months of Mike’s shifts are now covered by his brothers and sisters. Mike was relieved to hear that his shifts are covered and can concentrate on healing.”
In other words, within 12 hours of Pius’s accident, his shifts were all covered. “The Flagler County Professional Firefighters also helped the family by paying for a hotel room for the family so they can be close to Mike during the surgeries,” Petito wrote. “I cannot tell you in words how appreciative and thankful I am to be around the world’s finest professionals.”
For Pius, a few plans will have to change. He and Kline were scheduled to make several trips to train other firefighters–back to the Czech Republic, to Poland, and to Guatemala, where the pair was asked to train some 100 firefighters. They were to volunteer their time. The Rotary Club was picking up the air fare. And they were gathering surplus equipment to take down with them. Kline is now trying to delay the trips a while. “I would like to continue doing it with my friend,” he said of the training, describing Pius’s method. “He’s brilliant, the stuff comes easy to him, he’s good at what he does, and he’s good at teaching other people how to do it also.”
Kline added: “I’m just worried about him obviously. He’s one of my best friends.”