A Gulfport Fire Fighter Is Thankful

Tot Burkhalter thinks that by January he should be fighting fires again with the Gulfport Fire Department. He took his first small step in that direction on Thanksgiving Day.

The injured fireman visited several Gulfport fire stations, so his colleagues could see how well he's recovering from the burns that hospitalized him last week. Burkhalter says he is thankful to be home. But he won't fully recover until his partner Matt Nault gets out of the hospital.

His wrists are bandaged. His skin aches. But Gulfport fireman Tot Burkhalter is home.

"You know I was pulling up my driveway, it was just like a sigh of relief, you know, I'm home" says Burkhalter. Home to walk in the front door and be with his family, just in time for them to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Last Wednesday morning, Tot Burkhalter and Matt Nault were the first firefighters inside a burning Highway 49 building. Burkhalter says he can remember the heat just beating down on them. He remembers feeling his skin start to sting. That's when he knew both he and his partner were in trouble.

"I knew how bad off he was. I knew what I was feeling. So it was if we don't do something, that was going to be it," says Burkhalter.

The firemen escaped, one through the door, one through a broken window. They both suffered severe burns. And they both wound up at the University of South Alabama burn unit.

"After all this happened, I guess my biggest worry was not getting to be around my family on Thanksgiving day" he said.

For Burkhalter, his family, and his friends in the fire department, a week of prayers were answered. "We just thank the lord with all the prayers and everything, I think he helped us get him back" said Burkhalter's mother, Monette Bowen.

"I feel for my friend Matt, because he's still in there. He's hanging on. He's strong. And he has his family there. So he knows my thoughts are with him" said Tot Burkhalter.

WLOX's Brad Kessie says he had a chance to talk with Matt Nault's wife. And Stacey told him that doctors at the University of South Alabama Medical Center have moved Matt back and forth between a private room and the burn unit so they could treat some of the deeper wounds he suffered while battling this fire. She asked that on this Thanksgiving, you keep the Gulfport fireman in your prayers.

Tot Burkhalter wanted to make sure he thanked the Gulfport Firefighters union and the Mobile Fire Department. Both groups paid for hotel rooms, so his family and Matt Nault's family could be close to the burn unit while the firemen recovered. Doctors still haven't said when Nault will be able to come home.