Rick Sinnwell: walking through fire - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Rick Sinnwell: walking through fire

Rick Sinnwell shortly after the chemical explosion that burned 80% of his body Rick Sinnwell shortly after the chemical explosion that burned 80% of his body
Rick Sinnwell in Physical Therapy this summer Rick Sinnwell in Physical Therapy this summer

By Sunny Layne

Nashua (KWWL)-- Firefighters train to save lives and rescue those in danger, but last October one former fire chief found himself fighting for his own life after 80 percent of his body got burned in the Cambrex explosion.

Now this father and grandfather bravely faces a future he never imagined.

Rick Sinnwell is someone you should know.

Step after step, throw after throw, Rick Sinnwell moves forward.

"Something just told me to hit the floor, close my eyes and hold my breath," he said. "So that's what I did."

This father of four and grandfather was in the room at the Cambrex pharmaceutical plant in Charles City where the explosion happened.

"Heat," he said. "Lots of heat."

And now he began the fight for his life.

"The only time I really felt the pain was when I was running and the clothes I was wearing that were melded to me started to peel" he said.

Sinnwell worked as a supervisor at the plant. He didn't know it at the time, but the explosion burned nearly 80 percent of his body.

"It was bad," his wife Sue said. "He had a little square on his head that was flesh color. I kissed that and it was crispy."

Rescuers airlifted Sinnwell to the University of Iowa Burn Treatment Center in Iowa City. There, doctors expected Sinnwell to die, but worked to save his life, scraping off charred skin, and pumping large amounts of life-saving fluids into his body.

"They're great down there, he said, fighting emotion. "They did a good job."

This former Nashua fire chief marvels he survived.

"I don't know," he said. "There's a reason he kept me here."

The main motivation behind his comeback, his high school sweetheart and wife of 31 years, Sue, who truly never left his side.

"Knowing that's what he would've done for me," she said. "The love we have, we've just always been there for each other."

This family man's children visited often. His daughter Jillian even postponed her wedding scheduled for the next week. She wanted her father to walk her down the aisle. After three months and 18 surgeries, including skin grafts to cover his burned eyelids, Sinnwell earned two nicknames: the million dollar man, and Superman.

"[The doctor] said I was doing good enough I could go home," Sinnwell said.

Although his appearance had changed and he could hardly move, Sinnwell determined he would walk again, even though doctors told him he couldn't.

Then on the lucky date 8-8-08 Jillian's wedding came, and this proud father walked his daughter down the aisle.

"It was a really happy day," he said.

Amid the victories of course come frustrations and setbacks. More surgeries await.

"We cope," Sue said through her tears. "I still have him. Who could ask for anything [more]?"

With his family at his side, Rick Sinnwell doesn't know what each step will bring, but he knows he will keep moving forward.

If you know someone who is making a difference or who has an interesting story to tell, we'd like to share his or her story too. Send your suggestion to Sunny Layne, or by calling 319-291-1257.   

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