Gulfport Fireman Returns To Work One Year After Burning Skin

For Matt Nault, the early morning Copa Casino fire was the perfect end to the perfect day. "I had kind of had doubts coming back," he said, "but this all made it worth it."

This was Nault's first fire action since November 15, 2000. That was the morning a raging Highway 49 fire severely burned Nault's arms and his chest. Nault said he relived that fire in his mind as he approached the Copa. "You've just got that fear of getting hurt again."

Nearly one year earlier, Nault suffered severe burns on his arms and his chest. Hospital treatment and rehabilitation repaired the skin damage. The mental anguish couldn't be addressed until his next fire call. That happened to be at the end of his first shift back on duty. "Maybe next time I won't be so fortunate to get out like I was a year ago," he thought. "So it all played in my head. But it made it worth it today."

Nault was back on the line. He was standing side-by-side with his colleagues again, doing what he loves, saving property and saving lives. "Being laid up that year kind of set me back," he said. "And it feels real good to be back."

Because of the burn scars, Nault will always have to wear a long sleeve shirt under his protective suit. He admitted that the mental scars from his year long recovery made him a bit apprehensive. Nault said, "You're a little more cautious. You know what fire can do to you now. In an instant things can change, go for the worst. And I just took it a little more cautious and did what I had to do. And just relieved that it's out."

As Nault headed back to the fire station to end his first 24 hour shift in a year, he said he had a phone call to make. His wife needed to know that Gulfport fireman Matt Nault was back. "I'll probably (call) in a few minutes when I get back to the station and tell her that I made it through the first one and didn't get hurt." He said that with a proud smile beaming from his face.

Matt Nault was one of two Gulfport firemen severely burned in last year's bootery fire. The other man was Tot Burkhalter. Burkhalter returned to work several months ago. In fact, he was also at Tuesday's Copa Casino fire.