OREGON – A 25-year-old volunteer firefighter severely burned in an August garage fire returned home to Oregon on Monday, just in time for Christmas.
With the aid of a walker and some help from friends and family, Thomas Jones climbed up the stairs at his parent’s rental home on South Fifth Street as his mom smiled and his dog eagerly watched from inside, tail wagging furiously.
When asked for a quick photo for the local newspaper, Thomas said “sure” and posed with his fiance, Chelsy Janssen and other family members on the home’s back porch.
“We’re very glad to see him come home. We’re excited, we’ve been waiting a long time,” said Jones’ niece, Beth Bohms, who made the trip back to Oregon from Florida for Christmas.
Bohms was one of nearly 200 people who braved chilly temperatures and lined state Route 64 by the fire station, holding handmade signs as Oregon Engine No. 9 escorted the car Jones and Janssen were riding in across the Rock River bridge, past the burned garage and on to his parents’ rental home.
Friends and family stood across the front driveway of the fire station, each holding a letter that spelled “Welcome Home TJ”.
Anna Withers, 8, and her sister Toni, 4, stood by their sign that read “Welcome Home Thomas, Merry Christmas” at the corner of Route 64 and Second Street.
“We’re friends through the fire department,” said their mom, Janice.
Jones was burned over 85 percent of his body Aug. 20 in a fire at his parents’ home. He was working on a demolition derby car in the garage at 406 S. Eighth St. when the explosion and fire occurred.
According to witnesses, Jones was engulfed in flames when neighbors came to his aid, wrapping him in a blanket.
The explosion ignited the garage and house. The garage was destroyed and the house sustained major damage.
Janssen, 22, also was burned on her hands, arms, and face as she attempted to help him. She then broke windows in the house and rescued two dogs that were still inside the home.
She was treated for burns on her arms and later released from the hospital.
Jones was flown to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, where he remained until being transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on Nov. 21 for specialized therapy.
His “out date” originally was scheduled for Dec. 27, but he told his mother, Penny, in November: “Mom, I’ll be home for Christmas.”
The Oregon Fireman’s Association has donated $25,000 to the young couple, and an account has been set up for them at Community State Bank of Oregon.
Donations may be mailed to Jones/Janssen Benefit Account, Community State Bank, P.O. Box 399, Oregon, IL 61061.