An Indiana fire marshal who nearly lost life and limb to a deadly flesh-eating bacteria is shedding more light on his harrowing experience in an exclusive “firefighter-to-firefighter” interview with FireFighting News.
When 51-year-old Greenwood Fire Marshal Tracy Rumble wears shorts, a purplish discoloration on his leg sometimes prompts people to ask him if he’s having circulation issues – or a birth mark.
However, the discoloration isn’t a birth mark. If anything, it’s a daily reminder of how lucky Rumble is to be alive and on two legs.
Back in 2011, Rumble was a Lieutenant with GFD’s fire prevention unit, doing inspections and investigations. One day, a routine arson investigation in a substandard dwelling would soon change his life.
“We were called to deal with an arson fire that was in a dirty, dirty house,” he recalled. “I mean, it was nasty. Just a dirty family. While we were investigating the arson fire in the laundry room, there was just dirty clothes stacked three feet high.”
Despite the fact that he was wearing duty pants and didn’t think he had any open wounds, it is generally believed that the filthy home was ground zero- not only for the arson fire, but the beginning of a tribulation that would literally plague Rumble for some time.
The following week, Rumble was at home watching TV when he and his then-wife noticed that there was something wrong with his leg.
“My pajama bottoms stuck to the sheets,” he said. “My leg was bright red and so hot you could hardly touch with with your hands.”
Needless to say, they headed to the hospital that night, where doctors assumed it was a spider bite and put him on medication. After about three days at the hospital, they began talking about amputation.
Fortunately, a surgeon who knew Rumble decided to do exploratory surgery before allowing an amputation to take place.
“It was like twenty minutes from the point that he looked at it that I was being prepped for surgery.”
Not long after, the bacterial infection continued to eat away at his flesh- so much so, that muscles were visible.
“We were on Fall break in the Smoky Mountains a couple of weeks ago with my son’s Boy Scout Troop in the Smoky Mountains and one of the dads who didn’t know about my leg sees me with shorts on,” Rumble recalled. “He was like ‘Uh, Tracy, is your leg okay, dude?’ My son just starts to laugh and we joked about it.”
“I could wiggle my toes, and you can see my muscles moving,” Rumble chuckled. “My son called it ‘gross-cool.’”
Owing much of his recovery to his son, he recalled the effects of morphine combining with his son’s selfless donation of his Nintendo portable video game device.
“I’m on morphine and playing his games because I had so much downtime,” he said. “Next thing I know, I’m hallucinating, being chased by Mario, Luigi and the turtle.”
After a few weeks, Rumble was able to recover at home, with doctors pulling him off antibiotics so he could give accurate culture samples. Later, it was discovered that E.coli was to blame for the necrotizing fasciitis.
Now recovered many years later, Rumble never forgets how lucky he was. Around the same time, several people lost limbs and died due to infectious bacteria cases not dissimilar to his own.
“I’m pretty lucky,” he said. “I still have both my legs. I’m the kind of guy who reminds himself that if you’re having a bad day, someone else is has it worse. Just ‘gotta remember that.”