A Group Of Columbus Firefighters Helped Renovate A Woman’s Home On The West Side

A group of Columbus firefighters decided to undertake a modest renovation on a west-side home last November.

That decision changed lives. The plan started when Lt. George Wallace, a veteran paramedic and EMS supervisor was working overtime on the west-side and heard a familiar address on a call. A woman had been injured in a fall.

Wallace knew the address belonged to Kay Werk. Werk was inducted into the Ohio State University College of Social Work Hall of Fame for her work helping to develop the Columbus Division of Fire’s Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) program. The program came in the wake of the tragic death of firefighter John Nance in the line-of-duty in 1987. Werk and the CISM program were instrumental in helping address the mental and emotional wellbeing of firefighters coping with the loss.

For years, Werk road along on evenings and weekends with Engine and Medic crews to learn what challenges firefighters face every day.

Ten years ago, Werk suffered a serious stroke that left her with limited use of her left arm and leg. She still works, seeing clients in her home. When Wallace came to Werk’s house that day, she had fallen while trying to get out of her wheelchair in the bathroom.

“She had hurt her leg, and of course she didn’t want to be transported. But it started to swell, so we convinced her to go to the emergency room. An ER X-ray revealed the fracture,” said Wallace, according to a post shared on Facebook by Columbus Division of Fire.

Photos via Columbus Division of Fire Facebook

After a week-long hospitalization and three weeks in physical rehab, Werk was diagnosed with COVID-19 and had to remain in the rehab facility for two months.

When Wallace had been at Kay’s house, he noted that the bathroom was too small to accomodate her wheelchair. After mulling it over at the firehouse, Wallace decided to reach out to other firefighters and the west side construction community about the availability of materials. But soon the word was out that the firefighters were looking to help Werk and others wanted to help them.

Photos via Columbus Division of Fire Facebook

“One guy called another guy, who called another guy. Two Unit, led by Capt. Mark Mattox practically painted the whole thing. All three units stepped up with help. I had a friend who was in construction stop by and look at the house. He had fallen off a roof and was dependent on a wheelchair himself. The first thing he pointed out was the bathroom: it was way too small,” said Wallace.

So Wallace and some pals got to work. With cash donations from the Columbus Firefighters Foundation and the Columbus Fire Recruit Class of December 2012, Wallace alerted Werk that they were undertaking the renovation.

Photos via Columbus Division of Fire Facebook

While she was getting better, he sent some carpet samples for her to look at. She didn’t know the extent of what was being done or just how many people had teamed up to pull it off.

When Werk was released from the rehab facility on January 18th, she was blown away.

“I’m just breathless. I can’t believe how pretty it all is,” said Werk after getting the grand tour of the kitchen, bedroom, sitting room and bathroom renovations.

Photos via Columbus Division of Fire Facebook

“Everything takes longer in a wheelchair. But now I can roll into the shower, back it out and sit on a bench, and there’s a wonderful heater right in front of it, so it’s not a shock to get in there. It seems like a small thing, but I can now pull myself up to the sink, brush my teeth over a sink and a mirror I can actually use. It’s so much more dignified than brushing my teeth over a cup,” said Werk.

Werk made it clear that she wasn’t surprised by the generosity of the firefighters.

“The magic of CISM is not just mental help or therapy, but the experience of professional firefighters,” said Werk.

Photos via Columbus Division of Fire Facebook

“Firefighters know how to help one another. What is so astonishing about firefighters is the number of different skills they have; electrician, plumber, painter and carpentry. Not just putting wet stuff on the red stuff. But the end result is always the product of cooperating. Together they are so much more than just one or two of them,” said Werk.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Kay!

You can see more photos of the renovation by visiting the Columbus Division of Fire Facebook.

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