Cornell firefighter Justin Fredrickson says he is fully recovered from four surgeries this year after he was bizarrely struck by a bullet while extinguishing a house fire near Sheldon on Feb. 19.
Apparently, a loaded .38-caliber pistol within the house had fired, although no one was inside the structure. The gun became so hot due to conditions from the fire that it began to fire five or six rounds, leaving exit holes in the wall of the house, as bullets flew outside. One of those stray shots struck Fredrickson along his rib cage on his left side.
Fredrickson said he didn’t know what hit him.
“All of a sudden I felt something hit me in the side,” Fredrickson recalled. “It was a burning and stinging feeling. I just thought I got hit by a two-by-four or something that blew out of the house.”
Other firefighters closer to the house heard the shots go off. They looked at Fredrickson and saw he had been injured. They ran over and helped him to the ground, then got his gear off of him.
Fredrickson was taken to a hospital in Ladysmith, then airlifted to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Eau Claire. He had an emergency surgery that night to remove part of his colon and repair his damaged spleen, which needed to be cauterized. However, the bullet remained lodged in his back.
People are also reading…
“It missed my spine by a half-inch to an inch,” Fredrickson said. “It’s freaky.”
Cornell Fire Chief Denny Klass wasn’t at the fire scene. He was dumbfounded when he got the call that Fredrickson had been struck by a bullet and needed to go to a hospital. Klass said that with COVID-19 protocols, he couldn’t enter the hospital to see his injured colleague. It was nerve-wracking to wait to hear news of his condition.
“When I finally got to hear his voice ... it still brings me chills,” Klass said. “We’re very fortunate everything turned out the way it did.”
Fredrickson had two more surgeries within the next week.
“They cut me open and flushed me out because I was going septic,” Fredrickson said. “If they hadn’t done that, I would have been dead by the morning.”
Fredrickson would remain hospitalized for two weeks.
Coming homeWhen Fredrickson was allowed to leave the hospital, he was greeted outside by six firetrucks from different nearby firefighter agencies. They formed a parade, heading from Eau Claire to the Cornell Fire Station, with four other departments sending vehicles during the trek home.
Klass said in the days after the Feb. 19 fire, his office was inundated with calls of support from fire departments across the country. Departments sent Fredrickson their T-shirts as gifts. They heard from firefighter units from New York to Florida.
“It’s a brotherhood in the fire department, it really is,” Klass said.
While Fredrickson was out of the hospital, he couldn’t return to his job until April. A fundraiser benefit was held for him, and worker’s compensation covered his bills.
“It’s pretty amazing, a small community like this, the way they rallied together for him,” Klass said.
Fredrickson was surprised that the bullet remained lodged in his back. He had another surgery in mid-May to have it removed.
“They said I could have lived with the bullet in me,” Fredrickson said. “But it was moving. I could feel it roll with my finger.”
Fredrickson has the bullet at home, a souvenir of his survival.