Human Interest

The Sedona Fire District firefighter injured last month in a propane tank mishap is making strides toward being released from the hospital.

“His progress is slow and steady as he works with his doctors and therapists to do what’s needed in order to get better,” SFD Chief Kris Kazian said of Capt. Matt Fleece. “It’s going to be a long road but he’s in good spirits and taking everything in stride.”

On Oct. 27 at approximately 8:30 p.m., Fleece called 911 to notify SFD dispatch of a burn injury and fire at Station 5 in Oak Creek Canyon. He requested a fire response to the station. Fire engineer Mike Pace was in the station when he heard an explosion outside the two-story fire station, Fire Marshal Gary Johnson said.

Pace looked out the glass door and saw flames in the outside entryway. Johnson said Pace quickly went downstairs to the lower entryway to search for Fleece. He looked around the corner to find him climbing down an embankment next to the station.

Fleece called out to Pace to take the fire engine around to the upper level parking area and put out the fire. Pace did so and quickly returned and found Fleece suffering from burns. Pace immediately began treating his injuries with assistance from a retired SFD captain who happened to be driving by the station when the fire occurred.

Fleece was transported by helicopter to Maricopa County Burn Center for treatment of second-degree burns to about 15 percent of his torso.Capt. Matt Fleece

Since then, Fleece’s condition has continued to improve and he has been moved to an acute care unit at the burn center. His family has asked all to respect their privacy in this difficult time, Johnson said.

“Right now there’s no time frame as to when he will be released from the hospital,” Kazian said. “Matt is a strong person  of family and faith. He has a positive attitude and is determined. I have no doubt we will be seeing Matt back at SFD and we are doing everything we can at SFD to help him and his family.”

SFD requested a Regional Fire Cause Investigation Team to examine the fire scene. Kazian said that while it was not required, he felt it best to maintain objectivity by bringing in an independent investigator.

Johnson said the initial reports of the investigative team found the origin of the fire was the propane gas of the barbecue grill Fleece was using at the time. The team is reviewing the care, maintenance and propane storage practices of the grill at the fire station.

SFD has also initiated a serious injury review to document the incident and provide a report to offer insights into the initial cause of the fire and provide guidance for preventing a reoccurrence.

Fire damage was limited to the exterior entryway of the station where the barbecue grill was stored and used. Fire sprinklers in the station limited the fire damage to the entryway and provided protection to the interior of the fire station, which was back in operation within days of the incident. Contractors will begin repairs to the exterior, electrical and water damage in the next week.


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