MONTROSE TOWNSHIP, Mich. — An unknown illness nearly took a Mid-Michigan firefighter’s life and cost him his legs. Now, his small town fire department and community are pitching in to support him.
“It’s been … a little bit of a long road,” Scott McDowell said.
McDowell loves being a firefighter.
“It’s probably the most rewarding job in the world, to be able to help somebody in their worst circumstances,” he said.
The 42-year-old is not your ordinary firefighter, though. He has two prosthetic legs, which makes it a bit of a challenge gearing up to fight fires.
McDowell is a volunteer with the Montrose Township Fire Department. He had been with the department for about two years when he got terribly sick in May of 2011.
Strangely enough, it all started when he was gardening and came across some poison ivy. He thought he had the flu.
“A sickness that I knew had to be treated at a hospital,” McDowell said.
There was a one in a million chance of contracting the rare disease.
“I had a better chance of winning the lottery,” McDowell said.
At the hospital, he was sent to intensive care and was later sent to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Doctors never really pinpointed what caused the problem, but it could have included a form of meningitis. Eventually, due to the apparent infection, gangrene spread to McDowell’s legs.
“It was a fight to keep me alive,” he said.
McDowell’s legs had to be amputated below the knee. At first, he could deal with the news because it was about staying alive, but then came the depression.
“As time progressed, the thoughts of being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life or having to walk one of my daughters down the aisle in my wheelchair,” McDowell said. “I wont say [giving up] didn’t cross my mind. But I never wanted to give up.”
So, he didn’t.
McDowell came back to the department where he began working in radio communications. He also obtained a special state license to drive any type of emergency vehicle.
When it’s time to knock down flames, he goes into buildings right alongside his comrades.
McDowell’s fire chief said he’s an inspiration and a valuable member of his department. He said all of McDowell’s brothers and sisters love working with him.
“If he’s got his bunker gear on, you can’t tell that he’s got two prosthetics. It’s just the way he moves and stuff. It’s unbelievable,” Chief George Taylor said. “There’s some issues, without having feet he can’t tell the heat, so everybody just watches him. Everybody watches out for everybody. Everybody goes home together.”
McDowell said he hopes to inspire others, spark hope and remind everyone to never give up when facing a health crisis.
“It’s humbling, very humbling. I feel that I do what anybody else would do in a circumstance like this. Where life tries to pull the rug out from under ya. I’m not into quitting. I’m not into giving up,” he said.
McDowell said he had a visitor in his hospital room right after his legs were amputated. It was a nurse. She spent about a half hour offering him encouragement and told him never to quit.
At the end of her visit, she raised her scrubs and showed him her prosthetic leg.
“I believe God puts people in just the right places, at just the right time,” McDowell said.
McDowell said if he had one thing to say to everybody, it would be to not give up because you don’t know what you can do until you try.
McDowell was recently promoted to sergeant at the Montrose Township Fire Department.