Friends build ramp for Labrador firefighter's return home in wheelchair

·3 min read
A group of firefighters work to build a ramp for their coworker and friend Paul Cooke. Blair McLean said the firefighters are like family and they wanted to help their colleague. (Regan Burden/CBC - image credit)
A group of firefighters work to build a ramp for their coworker and friend Paul Cooke. Blair McLean said the firefighters are like family and they wanted to help their colleague. (Regan Burden/CBC - image credit)

It wasn't their typical duties, but a group of 10 firefighters gathered at a home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this week to build a ramp for their colleague Paul Cooke, who suddenly became paralyzed this winter.

The firefighters learned last week that Cooke, who had been away for five months for treatment, was coming home, Cooke's coworker Martin Dyson said there was no question that they'd build a ramp for their friend.

"I learned a lot from Paul, a very smart man, very respectful man, a good guy you can carry on with," said Dyson.

"He's the type of person that once you spend a bit of time around them, you respect them a lot. And I mean, you can see today that's exactly what's going on here right now. It's just a show of respect," Dyson said.

Regan Burden/CBC
Regan Burden/CBC

Cooke was in the military for 20 years before returning to Happy Valley-Goose Bay and working as a firefighter with Serco at the 5 Wing fire hall for the last 24. He worked his way up to become a fire inspector. Then, one day last winter, he felt a tingle in his leg.

"I was out doing an inspection and my leg got a tingly feeling. Then after a couple days, I was at work and I got up and I walked about 10 feet and I couldn't move after that. They had to take me to the hospital in the ambulance," Cooke said.

A disc in Cooke's spine had imploded, putting pressure on his nerves and paralyzing him, he said. Cooke said the doctor told him he needed surgery to correct it but that he may be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Thank you very, very much for helping me, especially this time of need. - Paul Cooke

Cooke said it was scary because he considered himself young at 63. Through physiotherapy, he said, he's now able to use a walker to walk a little.

After receiving treatment in St. John's, Cooke is returning home Saturday after five months in treatment. While Cooke was being treated, his wife was diagnosed with cancer and receiving chemotherapy treatment. Thanks to his friends, getting into their home will be one less challenge.

Regan Burden/CBC
Regan Burden/CBC

'I was so grateful and honoured to be working with a good group of guys and then especially volunteering their time, that was awesome," Cooke said.

Cooke said he's also grateful for the local legion, which paid for the material. Cooke had been the legion president for some time so his coworkers asked the legion for help.

"Thank you very, very much for helping me, especially this time of need," said Cooke.

Coworker Blair McLean said he was fortunate enough to work with Cooke for 16 years.

"I learned a lot from him. Everyone here has learned stuff from Paul," McLean said. "We all live together at the fire hall. It's like a big family, and Paul's part of that."

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