Watertown fire captain grateful for care after battling horrific blaze

Watertown fire captain T.G. Kolb’s recovery was a long and arduous one, but it was made easier by a wide and diverse support network including family, the Upstate team, fellow firefighters,  and even strangers. Here’s Kolb during his time in Upstate’s rehabilitation department displaying a “Thank You Hero” sign autographed by students from Sherman Elementary School in Watertown.


Unaware of the impending coronavirus pandemic, the Upstate Foundation began the year preparing for its annual observance and celebration of Doctors’ Day. As in years past, Foundation staff received nearly 1,000 notes from patients expressing gratitude to a wide array of care providers at Upstate University Hospital. Among this year’s most inspiring stories was that of Watertown fire captain T.G. Kolb.

Kolb’s long and still ongoing tale of perseverance began with a fire in a vacant building in Watertown, NY, in February 2018. The blaze defied entry by firefighters – leaving them with the ostensibly safer option of battling the flames from outside the structure. Suddenly, and unpredictably, a two-story brick wall collapsed, injuring two firefighters. One escaped with minor injuries; however, Kolb suffered major harm to the lower portion of his body.

“I kept shouting to my crew ‘put me down, I’m OK!’ as they pulled me away from the wreckage,” said Kolb. Such is the numbing effect of shock. Swiftly taken to the nearest local emergency department, it became clear trauma care would be needed. With an airlift ruled out due to inclement flight conditions, Kolb was placed aboard an ambulance and taken to Upstate.    

It was during this time Kolb discovered the human support structure around him was extensive and strong, even if the building that harmed him hadn’t been. 

First was his older brother, also a Watertown fire captain and paramedic who happened to be on duty that same evening and took the harrowing ride with Kolb from the North Country to Syracuse. Concurrent with that ride, Kolb’s wife made her way to Upstate, even as New York state police were dispatched to SUNY colleges at Cortland and Binghamton to notify and retrieve his daughters from school. Alerted that one of their own had been seriously injured, next came the moral support of Syracuse firefighters, who lined up in uniform as Kolb was lifted from the ambulance upon reaching Upstate’s Trauma Center.

“On the ride down, I faded in an out of consciousness,” Kolb said. “But I’ll tell you, I never felt such love or support as I did at that moment those doors opened.”

And then there was the expert care Kolb received from the multidisciplinary team at Upstate. Faced with immediate threats posed by numerous crushed and broken bones, serious nerve damage, and injuries to multiple organs, Upstate’s trauma team tackled the immediate risks to Kolb’s life. Next, weeks of traction and multiple surgeries, led by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Kistler, set Kolb on the long road to recovery. And countless sessions in Upstate’s physical medicine and rehabilitation department enabled him to leave the hospital after only six weeks, so Kolb’s at-home rehabilitation could begin.

“My wife spent the first two weeks by my side in the hospital, then drove from Watertown to Syracuse for four weeks,” said Kolb. “She, my friends and my family were all so impressed by the care I received. I call Upstate my ‘miracle team,’ because I’m grateful to be alive and walking thanks
to them.” 

Today, more than two years later, Kolb’s journey and health issues continue. “I have good days and bad days,” he said. Fortunately he, like his support system, remains strong.


Consider a making a gift to the Upstate Foundation's Friend In Deed Annual Fund to assist with patient needs, line T.G. Click here to donate today.