On the mend

Injured MCFR firefighter Capt. Chris Trubelhorn is back home after two months in a hospital burn unit.

From left, MCFR Battalion Chief Richard Saulsberry, Capt. Chris Trubelhorn, Tabitha Trubelhorn and Chaplain Joe LaCognata are shown as Chris Trubelhorn was released from a hospital on Dec. 26, 2023. [Photo courtesy Professional Fire Fighters of Marion County]

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Posted December 27, 2023 | By Susan Smiley-Height

Following a traumatic experience, the takeaways often are twofold. The physical manifestations of the trauma might remain raw and painful and require intense medical attention. The comfort and support needed mentally may be critical to healing the soul and spirit.

Marion County Fire Rescue Capt. Chris Trubelhorn can speak about both sides of the equation.

Trubelhorn was badly burned while fighting a structure fire in Silver Springs on Nov. 1. He spent the next eight weeks receiving treatment at UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. He was released on Tuesday, Dec. 26, to the joy of his family members, fellow firefighters and friends.

Trubelhorn said on Wednesday, Dec. 27, that he endured 10 surgeries over his two months in the burn unit at Shands. He said he does not expect to have any other surgeries but will have physical therapy sessions. He said his burns were to his arms, hands, sides, flanks and abdomen.

“My healing is going very well,” he said via cellphone while traveling with his wife, Tabitha. “I will have some weekly follow-ups, and that will then be monthly then eventually phase away.”

He was quick to offer praise to Tabitha for her support over the past several weeks.

“I can’t give enough credit to my wife,” he said. “Twenty-two years ago, I became the luckiest man in the world in marrying my wife. She’s my biggest advocate and she proves it every day. It’s just amazing.”

And, he added, “Eleven years ago, I was in an accident where I was rear-ended in a hit and run and was treated at Shands in Jacksonville. They saved my life multiple times. I was in a coma for a month, in the hospital for six months and out of work for over a year. But she was by my side every minute of every day, and, unfortunately, I asked her to do it again this time!”

Capt. Chris Trubelhorn [Photo courtesy Professional Fire Fighters of Marion County]

Trubelhorn, 53, is a U.S. Navy veteran whose deployments have included Operation Desert Storm. He and Tabitha have one son and three grandchildren, who, he said, are, “absolutely wonderful.”

“They sacrificed, too,” he said, “coming up to the hospital, spending Christmas in the hospital. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Trubelhorn said he is set to retire from MCFR in January 2025. After a couple more months in recovery, he said, he expects to be “back to work 100%. I’ll be back on an engine for about eight months after that.”

In addition to looking forward to getting back to work and to his favorite hobby of fishing, Trubelhorn is eager to resume his mantle of leadership during the Marion County Chili Cook-Off, which is an annual benefit for The Cornerstone School. This year’s event took place Nov. 4.

“I’m secretary of the Professional Fire Fighters of Marion County. My wife and I accepted the challenge to lead the chili cook-off for PFFMC every year. That’s my baby,” he said, his voice rising slightly. “I was so sorry to miss it this year but will be back next year. We have so much fun.”

Trubelhorn said while he was hospitalized, one of his nurses told him she had never seen anyone have so many visitors.

“And that’s to Gainesville, so people were driving over an hour to come see an old fogey like me,” he said with a chuckle. “But the union has never been tighter. We support each other and it shows when things like this happen. It also shows for good things, like the chili cook-off, when we pack the house.”

And, he added emphatically, “I want to mention MCFR’s Chief James Banta and Alex Caban. They support mental health more than I have seen in my 19 years. They have given so much to the department and so much of their focus on mental health issues and they deserve credit. They have come up with a peer support group and this is something jointly with the union. The future really looks bright for such a dim subject like mental health and the fire department.”

Trubelhorn also said when 18- and 19-year-old staffers come on board, they may be subjected to trauma that “is not normal, and without the chiefs and without the union, they would not be properly equipped.”

“I’d also like to thank Chaplain Joe LaCognata,” he added. “He deserves a ton of credit. Besides my wife, he may have been my most frequent visitor. I often tell him I don’t know what we’d do without him. He’s monumental.”

A news release from the PFFMC on Dec. 27 noted that the group wanted to extend “a very special thank you to the doctors, nurses and staff in the burn unit for their exceptional care of their patients. Capt. Trubelhorn still has a substantial road of recovery ahead of him until he brings his experience back to MCFR. While the task may seem daunting or scary to some, Capt. Trubelhorn is committed to returning to his calling.”

Banta, in a statement on the MCFR Facebook page, said, “Throughout his career, Chris has shown strength and determination. We expect nothing less from him now. As he continues to heal at home, we ask that everyone continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.”

Trubelhorn said to let everyone know that he was truly grateful for a 15-minute video presentation put together by the “Ocala Gazette” that contained numerous clips from well-wishers.

“Thanks for the greetings,” he said. “I have plans to make a video for all of you in return. Oh, yes, I have some ideas!”




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