The world as he knew it came crashing to an abrupt halt on August 21, 2000. Dan was a volunteer fireman. He had just gotten home from work on the afternoon of August 21 when he received a call for a fire. No on else responded so Dan, his wife, Kathy, and the fire chief, Jason Porter headed to the fire. The fire was a pine tree forest fire in land owned by West Vaco.
The three worked diligently on putting out the fire. Dan had on his full turnout gear, which consisted of rubber pads and a heavy rubber jacket. These clothes are extremely heavy and hot. He also had a water pack with 80 pounds of water on his back.
As they got to the back of the fire, Dan went to his knees. He started begging the other two to help him, and that his head was going to explode. Kathy said, "He knew that he was in trouble and he wanted out."
Kathy and the fire chief got Dan into a safe area and removed the heavy pads. They used the water that was left in his water pack to spray him off as they carried him to safety. Kathy called an ambulance, which met them at the bottom of the hill. The ambulance packed him in ice, gave him an I.V. and sent him home.
Kathy assumed her husband was suffering from heat exhaustion. He slept on and off for a week and couldn't tell whether it was night or day outside. It wasn't until months later and many trips to doctors and specialists that Dan was diagnosed with heat stroke.
He began being under the care of Dr. Jeffrey Harris, a neurologist from Nashville. Although Dr. Harris is one of the top in his field, Dan is his only survivor of heat stroke. He attributes this to the quick thinking and paramedic training of Fire Chief, Jason Porter who knew how to cool Dan down.
Heat stroke victims suffer for many reasons. The heatstroke burns off brain cells. Therefore, cognitive skills are effected. If a person isn't using certain parts of the brain, these cells eventually die and cannot be used again. Heat stroke victims lose brain cells each year and can not replace them. Thus a patient's I.Q. is continually decreasing.
Many other things are affected by a heat stroke. Victims lose much of their balance. They often suffer from nausea and severe headaches causing them to be in a daze-like state. They can not tolerate temperature, especially warm temperatures. They can't concentrate on a given topic for a length of time, which makes carrying on a conversation, and many aspects of every day life very difficult. Due to the facts that their lives have become so drastically different many victims suffer depression and psychosis.
Dan and Kathy had to make many life changes. Dan had to sell his business. He is just not in the right state of mind to run his own business anymore. Kathy has to work out of the home to stay home to take care of Dan. He doesn't have the judgement that he used to and Kathy worries about his safety. "He's alive and I want to keep him that way," she said.
After a long, drawn out case, the Doenches finally settled with workman's comp. The couple receives $97.82 a week and workman's comp pays for Dan's medical bills, which Kathy said are astronomical. The couple lives on about $1700 a month, which doesn't leave them any money to finish the house they have been working on. They spent all of their savings treating Dan while they waited on workman's comp to settle. Kathy has no health insurance.
Dan said, "One of the main things we want to get across is that after I had my heatstroke, we called the fire commissioner in Frankfort and everyone we could that was associated with volunteer fire departments. No one knew how to help. There is no help out there for volunteer firemen."
Currently Kathy and Dan have teamed up with the Executive Director of Fire Departments, Ronnie Day. Kathy said, "We are trying to get backing from anyone, volunteer firemen, senators, representatives, that can help push the government to give an incentive to volunteer firemen to go into a fire and put their lives on the line."
They would like to see the government at least offer a state tax break to volunteer firemen. After the lack of support they have received, Kathy and Dan don't want other volunteers to be in the same situation if something should happen. Kathy said, "This doesn't benefit us in the least. They (volunteer firemen) do this out of the goodness of their heart. That's the reason a person is a volunteer fireman; to help the community."
Dan and Kathy may try to rally a group of supporters and head to Frankfort. There they will beg for support for volunteer firemen in Kentucky.
Dan's life will be forever changed. The once very active outdoorsman can't even go outside in the summer, due to his temperature intolerance. He takes a handful of pills each day to help with the effects of the heat stroke and the depression. He has difficulty carrying on a conversation and doing simple tasks. Each day is a struggle to make it financially. Kathy and Dan both feel that nobody out there cares.
The couple doesn't want other volunteer firemen to feel and be treated the same way. That is why they are rallying for support. Dan said, " I just want people to know what firemen are risking when they go to fires."