A quiet vigil continues at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, where Prince George's County firefighter Barbara (Sandy) Lee, 26, continues to fight for her life following a September accident in which she was run over by a fire truck.
Several times a week, fellow firefighters take turns driving Lee's family from Oxon Hill to Baltimore to visit her. Although her co-workers have not yet been allowed to visit Lee, they still come to sit in the lobby, offering support to her relatives.
"They (the Lee family) seem to appreciate the company and the fact that everyone is praying for her to pull through," said Lt. William Barnard, one of the 10 or so volunteers who make regular trips to the hospital.
Although the hospital still lists Lee's condition as critical but stable, her doctors and friends describe her survival of the tragic accident as miraculous.
On the evening of Sept. 28, Lee's fire truck was rolling down the ramp of the Tuxedo-Cheverly station to answer a call about an apartment fire in Bladensburg. Somehow Lee slipped from the open compartment behind the passenger's seat of the ladder truck and fell under the truck. No one noticed her fall until her screams were heard as the rear wheels of the 17-ton truck rolled across her abdomen. The apartment fire report turned out to be a false alarm.
Lee was rushed to Prince George's County General Hospital, underwent surgery and then was flown to the Shock Trauma Center of the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. She lost much of the skin from her back, buttocks and thighs, causing her, even now, to be very susceptible to infection.
Fire department officials said Lee is conscious, but at the request of her family, neither the department nor the hospital will discuss the details of her condition and treatment.
"Her spirits seem to be good, according to what everyone tells me," said firefighter John B. Ragusa, a friend of Lee's. "She's a tough gal; I have to admire her," Ragusa added. Lee is described by friends as a friendly and feisty woman, and a dedicated firefighter.
A firefighter for four years, Lee, who lives in Laurel, was the second female (there are now eight) hired for the 513-member department, the only woman assigned to the Tuxedo-Cheverly station, and the first woman eligible for training to become an officer, Fire Chief James Estepp said.
Lee's accident has been particularly traumatic for the men who worked with her at the station. "The immediate reaction was one of disbelief," said Barnard, who is a supervisor at the station.
"It's like a member of the family being injured," Estepp said. "The people on that unit took it very hard and very personally, but they've come through it." Lee's co-workers received psychological counseling following the accident, the chief added.
Now Lee's friends must wait and hope. "We look at her as a firefighter who's going to come back and work here somewhere," Estepp said.