Grandview firefighter still fighting the good fight

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Kenny Barnes on his maintenance job at Best Western Inn at Horse Heaven in Prosser.

One day he was a gung-ho, volunteer firefighter who climbed a ladder to change a light bulb at a private school in Grandview. In the next minute, he was a crumpled heap at the bottom of that 25-foot ladder, with two broken legs and a smashed up ankle.

"The hardest part, after the accident, was not to go when the pager went off," said Kenny Barnes, who served as a firefighter for 19 years with Benton County Fire District 3 and the Grandview Fire Department before that fall.

"I loved it, and not to do the things I used to do...that was hard," said Barnes, whose troubles really began when his badly broken, right leg became infected from, he said, the rods and pins that were inserted to hold it together.

That accident happened Jan. 21, 2001, and he fought his way through 13 surgeries while physicians at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle struggled to save his leg. The infection required antibiotics delivered through IVs three times a day for three years.

"I was a sick puppy," he says today.

"It was hard, really hard. You could get really depressed tied basically to the house, having IVs all the time and worrying about a hole in my ankle the size of a 50-cent piece," he said.

Barnes credits his wife, Joni, with holding him together through the trying time.

"She was the strong point; I was the weak point. She was strength. When I was ready to quit, she was there," he said.

"For four years I wasn't there for her. I was in self-pity, but she was there for me. My wife stood by me all the time. Everybody should have a wife like her," said Barnes.

The struggle to save his limb ended in June 2004, when Barnes's leg was amputated below the knee.

"After I had it amputated, I got well," said Barnes, who was told that it would take him six months to learn how to walk on his prosthesis.

"The day they fitted it, I walked out on it that day," he said.

"Before the amputation, my ankle was fused and it felt like I was in a cast for four years, so the prosthesis wasn't that different to me. And it was determination, I guess," said Barnes.

A month after the amputation Barnes and his wife went to Disneyland with their two grandchildren, who live in California.

Keeping him busy and active was part of Joni's recuperation plan, he said.

"She took me places when I was depressed. People think that amputation is the end of the world, but it's not," Barnes said, but admitted that it took a strong wife and a support group in Seattle to bring him around to that way of thinking.

He said he wants to return the favor by starting a support group in Prosser for amputees.

"I hope this story might inspire someone else whose having this kind of problem," said Barnes when he was interviewed this past Tuesday. "That they understand it's not the end of the world. Tell them that anyone who wants to start a support group with me, can e-mail me at kdbbarnes@hotmail.com."

Barnes said he has never settled for ordinary when it comes to his artificial limb. He described his first leg as "baby blue, and then I got an Hawaiian one.

"This one is red, white and blue with flags and firemen on it," said Barnes, who puts a good face on the fact that his current prosthesis is the fourth he's received since June 2004 because the stump shrinks from disuse.

Each new limb costs $12,000. This newest one, received this summer, is called the Freedom 2000, and can do things that a prosthesis that has an ankle and foot that look like an ankle and foot cannot do.

"I don't think I'm disabled," said Barnes, "but there's things I have to admit I can't do, like climb long ladders or crawl on my hands and knees for long distances because the prosthesis doesn't bend at the ankle."

It is those kinds of things a firefighter needs to be able to do, but Barnes says he doesn't want to be counted out of the department yet.

"I'm on medical leave, a leave of absence from the Grandview Fire Department, but I'm thinking of seeing if I can volunteer for the fire department here in Prosser," said Barnes, who lives and works at the Prosser Best Western Inn at Horse Heaven where he and his wife, Joni, have a suite and where, this August, he took on his first job since the accident.



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