Story by CBSLA Staff, published by CBS News on May 17, 2022:
A Los Angeles firefighter who was badly burned in a massive downtown L.A. explosion and fire two years ago is continuing his road to recovery.
On May 16, 2020,. L.A. Fire Capt. Victor Aguirre rushed in to save lives and was the last firefighter to escape down a ladder when it was engulfed by a fireball.
“I thought, this is how I die,” Aguirre said.
In total, 11 firefighters were hurt in the explosion. Aguirre’s burns were catastrophic.
“I went from fourth-degree burns, which is your bones being burned, to second- and first-degree burns throughout my body,” Aguirre said. “I had…metal on the back of my head. I’ve had 31 surgeries.”
Aguirre’s continuing physical recovery has been harrowing and inspirational. He returned first to his family, and then to work at the LAFD emergency dispatch center. Now he’s focused on another type of healing, through fishing.
Deep-sea fishing experts designed a one-of-a kind fishing reel just for Aguirre’s healing hands.
“I went through a process where I thought I was going to lose both hands,” Aguirre said. “So going from not having hands, potentially not having hands, to going fishing, that’s something amazing.”
“We took an existing reel, and we made a special knob,” said David Nilsen with Accurate Fishing. “We made something where Vic can get his hand, his left hand, in there and kind of cradle the reel.”
Nilsen’s team designed and created the parts with 3D printers after brainstorming the idea with organizers of the Firefighter Fishoff, a popular annual contest that serves as a fundraiser for burn victims. Aguirre told them that, one day, he’d fish in it.
“He is inspirational, he is a fighter, he is persistent,” said Peter Pak with the Greenspan Company.
“And I thought, you know, maybe if I do it, I just got to duct tape my hands to the fishing pole and I’ll do it,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre started deep sea fishing with his son years ago and has missed time on the water with family and friends. So, this year, he boarded one of the boats with his new reel.
“I’m going to give it all I got,” Aguirre said. “I’m excited and nervous at the same time because I don’t want to let anyone down.”
Glendale firefighters snagged bragging rights for the contest’s biggest fish. But, with fellow firefighters at his side, and with his own hands, it was Aguirre who reeled in the biggest catch.
“I asked myself, ‘Why, what did I do to deserve this?’ But now I’ve got something else to practice and focus on, and I can’t wait to share that with my family and friends.”
Aguirre’s son is now a young firefighter himself. He couldn’t go on this trip because of all the Southland fires, but the two plan to fish together this upcoming Father’s Day.