Firefighers rally for Sequim volunteer

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Even with an inoperable tumor in his head, Jerry Peterson counts himself as a thankful man. And with career and volunteer firefighter colleagues rallying around him, he feels doubly blessed. Peterson has been a volunteer firefighter with Clallam Fire District 3 in Carlsborg since June 5, 2007.


The 38-year-old woke up in the morning of Oct. 22 with ongoing flu-like symptoms — and an alarming sensation — the left side of his face was drooping and his hearing was greatly diminished. He asked Troy Tenneson, a paramedic with District 3, to make a house call and he advised Peterson if the condition persisted another day, to go to Olympic Medical Center.


“They checked me for a stroke and ruled out that, did an MRI and found a tumor,” Peterson said. “I went to Swedish (Medical Center) on Oct. 23 and had surgery on Oct. 25.” The MRI revealed an acoustic neuroma, a slow growing benign tumor wrapped around the vestibulocochlear nerve, a facial nerve which connects the inner ear to the brain and traverses the face, controlling balance and hearing. The tumor was 1.18 inches by 0.5 inch and it occurs only in 1 in 100,000 cases worldwide.


“Because it wrapped around the nerve, they couldn’t take it out, so they drained it and carved out some bone for a way for it to expand out. It was the best possible place to have a brain tumor,” Peterson said. Thus far he hasn’t had to have radiation therapy.


“Basically, now I’m waiting and recovering — the left side of my face is coming back as is my hearing,” Peterson said. “Vertigo has been the biggest challenge.”


Unfortunately, Peterson had no insurance for the $100,000 operation and tests. A year ago he quit working at The Home Depot where he’d been a master trade specialist in the electrical department for five years to focus on his own business, JPE, as an electrician. Fortunately, he’s been able to get some financial assistance — both OMC and his anesthesiologist wrote off their bills but much remains.


His firefighting family immediately stepped up to put on a benefit for Peterson’s medical expenses. It’s this Sunday, Jan. 19, from 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Sequim Prairie Grange. Peterson said he wouldn’t miss being there and chipping in to help all the volunteers.


“He has a heart to serve those who are in need and is willing to help new members learn the art of firefighting,” said Fire Chief Steve Vogel. “Many members join a fire department hoping to get a career — Jerry joined for the right reason and that is he wants to serve his neighbors. He always has a smile and when we ask him to help out at public events he usually finds the time to help. After 6.5 years of going out on fires and other emergencies, members, both career and volunteer, join together having a special kind of bond. They want to help each other. This is the main reason for the pancake breakfast.”


“I’ve just been blown away with all the support. I feel the best when I’m talking to people, empowering them to help themselves. Anytime I can pass on any knowledge and encouragement is a good feeling,” Peterson said. “It’s hard to be on the receiving end because I like to give,” he admitted. “I have to thank God when I was in the hospital, it was just the most amazing presence I felt. I could only be thankful — this has strengthened my faith.”


When he learned of the benefit efforts, Peterson said, “I was speechless. I always thought  being with the department was like being part of a family — now I know it. I’m just amazed that every single firefighter is so willing to take time to help me. It’s a good feeling. Family, you know.”


Although his neurologist has released him medically with no restrictions, the department’s chief medical officer hasn’t yet put him back on duty.


“I don’t want to be a liability and I know I’m working with limitations, such as vertigo with sudden movements, but my hearing has come back quite a bit,” Peterson said. “I’ve been going to the fire department to do classes for new volunteer recruits and it makes me feel good still being a part of.

Hopefully I’ll be able to start responding to fires again.”


Peterson is a Port Orchard native and has taken 144 hours of firefighting training just to be a volunteer with District 3. He and his wife, Michelle, married since 2007, have a 5-year-old daughter Ava.


To his brotherhood of firefighters, he said, “Words can’t describe the feelings of love and support. I’m just overwhelmed.”


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