Firefighter of the Year Patti Valero back to work with prosthetic leg after losing leg in 2009 crash

TAMPA - Patti Valero's job as a Hillsborough County Firefighter is to be steady, strong and sure.  Her crew depends on her.

"I love this station because you get a good variety of calls," she said.  

But on October 21, 2009, the emergency call that went out over the radio was for Valero herself.

"I was hit by a pickup truck about block from my house, and they say that's statistics," she explained.

The 20-year veteran firefighter lost her left leg just below the knee.

"I really didn't know what was going on until about a month. I didn't know I had an amputation," said Valero.

She does remember a hospital nurse telling her she'd never walk again that her leg would be impossible to fit with a prosthetic.

Greg Bauer with West Coast Brace and Limb in Tampa helped her prove that nurse wrong.

"Patti's tenacious," said Bauer.

After three weeks in the hospital, a wheelchair, two more years physical therapy, fittings, tears, toughness, and first steps, the veteran firefighter not only learned to walk again, she 's back driving fire trucks and answering calls.

"I had to come back. This is my passion and I pretty much felt when I was at home my identity was lost. When I would hear fire engines go by, I'd pretty much cry because I knew that I was missing out on something great," she said.

"Where does it come from? I don't know. I don't know if that's something you learn. I think it's innate. It's a part of her," said Bauer.

"We've had several incidents whether other people, our patients have had prosthetics or injuries and they would be complaining about it, and she'd say, well I've got one too," said Captain Douglas Killian.

That leg, she says, has made her a better firefighter-- her crew depends on it. 

"I wanted to show them that one of the worst things that can happen to you, you can continue doing it. You can come back if you fight the good fight," said Valero.

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