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Firefighter speaks for first time since falling into blaze

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  • Fresno Fire Captain Pete Dern, center, walks away with the help of his wife Kelly Dern, left of center, and physical therapist Ascension Santoya, right of center, following a news conference on July 9 in Fresno, Calif. (Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee via AP)
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FRESNO, Calif. » A Fresno Fire Department captain made his first public appearance since falling through a roof while fighting a house fire more than three months ago.

Capt. Pete Dern was greeted with applause as he walked to a news conference held outside the Leon S. Peters Burn Center at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, the Fresno Bee reported Saturday.

"I’m feeling pretty good," he said Friday, flanked by his wife, Kelly Dern, daughter McKenzie Dern, Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis and Dr. William Dominic, the burn center’s medical director.

"Dr. Dominic and his staff have done an amazing job of putting me back together," Dern said.

Hospital officials said the 49-year-old father has undergone 19 surgeries and over 50 dressing changes for his burn injuries.

Dern suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body after the roof of a garage engulfed in flames crumbled at his feet on March 29.

More surgeries will be needed for his burn wounds, but Dominic said the 25-year fire department veteran could be in a rehabilitation setting in the next several weeks. Recovery for burn injuries can take years, and Dominic said Dern "will be our patient for a long time"

Dern thanked his family and his wife, who has been at his side every day. And he thanked his firefighting family. Someone from the fire department has been at the hospital daily since the accident.

"It’s just a comfort knowing someone is around all the time," Dern said. Turning to his chief, who sat to his right, Dern said: "Thanks for letting them come."

Film footage of the fire that showed Dern falling into an inferno has generated interest and help from around the world. More than $186,000 has been raised for him.

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