Nebraska first responder finally back home after fatal crash in wildfires

The passenger in a fatal crash during the April wildfire in south-central Nebraska is on the road to recovery
A first responder injured in a fatal car crash while on his way to fight the fire is on the road to recovery.
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 9:54 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A promising update to those devastating wildfires in southern Nebraska just two months ago.

A first responder injured in a fatal car crash while on his way to fight the fire is on the road to recovery.

The April wildfires in south-central Nebraska destroyed a number of homes and a lot of lands. There was so much smoke that it was hard for the 20-plus volunteer fire departments to see as they raced to fight it from every angle.

In one example, first responders crashed into a water truck semi. It had a name, the Road 739 fire. In early April, the high winds pushed it out of control just north of Arapahoe, Nebraska.

Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull raced to the scene but collided with a water truck.

Krull was killed.

“How’s your shoulder today?” said a rehab team member.

His passenger, Phelps County Emergency Manager Justin Norris was severely injured. It’s not obvious today but he suffered head trauma, a spinal cord injury, and several broken bones.

He spent two weeks in the hospital before being transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital to move from the survival to the recovery stage.

It’s obviously a slow process, especially the getting in and out of the wheelchair.

Justin Norris says he wouldn’t be surprised if he graduates to a walker or crutches soon.

The emergency manager is used to responding to chaos, the nature of the job. It’s just that he’s never part of that story.

He’s back home in Holdrege now asking for privacy.

And while he’s nearly mastered the grabber, the extender that helps pick up things just out of reach, Justin Norris hopes to get back to part-time work helping others later this summer with the understanding this type of rehab work will only continue.

As Justin Norris recovers at home not far from these scenes back in April, he calls it a waiting game at this point, unsure of what remaining surgeries he may have.

He still isn’t able to put weight on his legs.

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