‘My leg, my arm, I can’t breathe': Shot Dallas firefighter-paramedic recalls last memory
Dallas Fire-Rescue Firefighter-Paramedic William An was shot in his arm and leg while helping a victim who was lying in the middle of an East Dallas street
“My leg, my arm, I can’t breathe.”
That’s the last thing Dallas Fire-Rescue Firefighter-Paramedic William An remembers after he was shot in his arm and leg while on duty in May.
The rest, An said, he remembers thanks to other first responders filling in the gaps for him.
“I know I was conscious while going to the hospital, and the last thing I remember is being in the back of the cop’s car and he was asking me what hurt,” An recalled. “I remember telling him, ‘My leg, my arm, I can’t breathe.’ We had that exchange a few times.”
As far as being shot, An doesn’t remember that at all.
“I just know what happened through everyone telling me, reading reports, my partner telling me ‘this is what you did, this is what happened,’” he said.
May 1, 2017
The day started off like any other, An said. Crews were about to have lunch when they got a call about a gunshot victim lying in a Dallas street. “It was a typical day,” he said. “We were all just out relaxing, nothing special really.”
Police said the shooting started as a dispute between a man and the gunshot victim.
“On the way to the run itself, I was the passenger [in the ambulance] and my partner was driving,” An said. “I read through all the comments so that we knew what we we’re heading into.”
An said the comments indicated that there was a potential suicide with a person in the street.
“There was nothing unusual in the comments that made us think, ‘oh we need to wait for police,’” he said. “We thought if we saw the guy, we need to approach him and make sure he’s safe, nothing crazy or unusual.”
The transfer itself from An’s station to where the patient was lying in the street was very short. “We were there within a couple of minutes, it was right down the street from where our station is,” he said.
Once An and his partner, Casey, arrived on scene, this is where his memory of the incident starts getting blurry.
The gunman, Derick Brown, shot the man lying in the street, later identified as Brown’s neighbor, with his AK-47. Before shooting his neighbor, Brown shot and killed his godfather.
Brown later opened fire while An and his partner were treating his neighbor. An was shot twice while attempting to help the victim.
Brown later fled from police and barricaded himself inside a house, where he fatally shot another person before killing himself.
Back on scene, responding officers rushed An, who was critically injured, to the hospital in their squad car.
Becoming the patient
An, who has been with Dallas Fire-Rescue for 11 years, has always wanted to be a firefighter. “I did a couple of years in finance while I was trying out for different cities and I knew off the bat that that wasn’t for me,” he said.
An tried out for half a dozen cities before he was hired by Dallas Fire-Rescue at age 25. “I’ve been in Dallas that entire 11 years,” he said. The incident, he said, is his first major on-duty injury. “I’ve had minor burns, but nothing close to this.”
An said he thinks the incident was probably scarier for his partner than himself. “He had to help me and treat me,” he explained. “I’m not sure what my mind was focused on, but knowing that you have to treat your partner and do the right thing for them, I’m sure that’s harder.”
As first responders, An said they’re used to treating citizens that they have no real connection to. “But once it’s one of our own, it’s like treating our own family members. It’s different.”
An underwent 14 surgeries, the major ones for the broken bones. He now has a metal plate inside his leg and thigh. “Before it was like an external metal rod that kept everything in place,” he explained.
A bullet hit a couple of arteries, leaving An with a scar on both of his legs from his ankle to his groin. “They had to take a donor vein and move it to the other leg to be able to supply some blood to my leg,” he said. “The vessel damage was pretty extensive.”
The scars are the least of An’s worries, though. “I’m more worried about the function. As long as my legs function, I’m not worried about the scars. I just want to be able to work, run and play with my kids.”
He’s currently going to physical therapy three days a week for one hour at a time. “It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s pretty tiring.” An said the physical therapy and rehab process will most likely take him anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
Firefighter, police community rallies
As a firefighter, you have a brother and sisterhood everywhere you go. An quickly realized that fact after being shot.
“There has been so much support from surrounding departments,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m being well taken care of. I haven’t needed anything.”
An mentioned that Dallas firefighter Jeff Patterson, who spent nearly five months in the hospital after he was burned while battling a house fire in 2014, walked him through what to expect with the injury, rehab and how to navigate worker’s compensation.
“Every department is bigger than you think. With the history of most departments, someone has been through what you’re going through or something related to it. Try to reach out and lean on them.”
For An, that person was Patterson. However, you don’t have to limit it to just one person. “The fire service is a huge family and it’s not just limited to your department,” he said. “Firefighters love to give help – whether it’s asked for or not. Rely on your extended family.”
Additionally, An said his fire family wasn’t the only one to step up. His brothers and sisters in blue were also there for him when he needed them the most.
“We really are a family – fire and police. We’re cut from the same sheet but different corners. The more I work and run with police, the more I appreciate them.”
‘Nothing is a coincidence’
An was present for the “Friends of Dallas Police” awards ceremony last month, which gave nine officers the Medal of Valor for rushing him to the hospital.
Sgt. Robert Watson, who led the response, and Officers Matthew Merta, Matthew Kalash, Christian Jackson, Gabriele Pina, William Bruce, Thomas MacPherson, Gary Green and Jacob Spearman were honored for the East Dallas shooting.
An, whose wife was expecting at the time of the shooting, also has a 4-year-old son named Walter. “The baby is here now,” he said.
The baby’s name, An said, seemed like a “crazy coincidence” at first. “It wasn’t the name I wanted, but my wife wanted something else.” An wanted to name his newborn son Arthur or Henry, but his wife insisted on a different name – long before the shooting occurred.
The baby’s name, Watson, mimics the last name of Sgt. Robert Watson.
“The timing of it – it just has to be more than coincidence. I didn’t even make that connection with the officer until my wife pointed it out. It’s pretty neat it happened that way.”
An said his wife, who is a nurse and used to work in general surgery, worried about him long before the shooting occurred. “I’ve worked in run-down neighborhoods and she has wanted me to move to North Dallas where there’s less tension going on,” he said. “I think it’s hard for any firefighting family member. There’s always going to be that worry.”
Physical therapy and rehab aside, An said he’s eager to get back into firefighting. However, he does realize that it may come with some potential side effects.
“I’m hoping that when I do get back out there that I’m not timid. When you hesitate, that’s when you get hurt. I think I’ll be fine, but I’ll never know until I get back into it.”
One thing An has learned, he said, is that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. “I know I have the option to talk to someone if I need to,” he said. “If things get heavy later down the line, I know there’s professional help there if I need it.”
Right now, An’s focus is getting through rehab in order to continue serving Dallas. “Being a firefighter is what I’ve wanted to do since kindergarten. I cannot wait to get back into the field.”