TWINSBURG, Ohio — A retired firefighter is sharing his story of survival with the hope his fellow first responders don't suffer the same fate.
It was a split second that reshaped Paul Nees’s future.
"I was severely burned. It was a near death incident,” Nees said. “I was 20-25% burned, second and third degree."
The retired firefighter barely escaped a flashover.
It happened back in July of 2011, while he was battling a house fire in University Heights.
“A flashover occurs when everything in the room reaches the same ignition temperature, and everything ignites at once,” Nees said.
Nees spent nearly a month in a burn unit undergoing painful treatments.
“It was a significant injury –one of the most significant injuries in Northeast Ohio for a long time,” Nees said.
For those who know Nees, they were not surprised to see him back on duty just six months later.
He retired the following summer on what he calls "my terms."
Support from his family, fellow firefighters and the community helped carry him through.
“I felt every good thought and every prayer. I really did,” Nees said.
Instead of trying to forget the day he was injured, Nees now travels to fire departments across Northeast Ohio to talk about how to spot a flashover and how to survive them.
"It's important to know what the signs are. Fortunately kept my hand on the hose and I was able to crawl toward the door and one of my fellow firefighters pulled me out of the house,” Nees said.
A decade later, Nees still has his charred gear—a reminder of just how quick firefighters can get caught in rapid-fire development.
“In my case, the State Fire Marshal came in and looked at it and he said in about three seconds it went to about 2,000 degrees in the room,” Nees said.
Nees, a member of the Twinsburg Civil Service Commission, is on a mission to make sure no one else endures the pain he experienced.
"If I wouldn't have had my hood on, I probably would have had my ears burned off. Something like that you don't go through alone. Your family helps you through it, your fire department helps you through it. The whole community,” Nees said.