William “Bud” McLeroy

If the most physically demanding job in America today is that of a firefighter, then Wiliam “Bud” McLeroy of San Diego goes one beyond that.  He is America’s only amputee federal firefighter.

All of his life, McLeroy has wanted to help people.  That’s why, after successful stints with the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, he chose to become a professional firefighter.  But, as fate would have it, Bud was the one who would ultimately need the help of others.

McLeroy’s hobby is off-road racing.  One hot Southern California weekend, he and his driving partner were competing in a race over a dry riverbed in the Imperial Valley desert.  Out in the middle of the course, their race car suffered mechanical difficulties and had to come to a halt.  Bud got out from behind the wheel and walked around to the back of the car to inspect the engine.

Two competitors quickly sped by Bud’s car, kicking up clouds of dust as they hurried by at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour.  A third car, its driver blinded by the thick billows of sand and dust, came flying through the clouds and collided with McLeroy, smashing him against the car’s rear bumper.  McLeroy’s right leg was severed and his femur jutted through his thigh.

Using the life-saving skills he had learned as a federal firefighter, Bud wrapped a tourniquet around the injury while other scurried frantically to contact paramedics.  An hour later, he was flown by a LifeFlight helicopter to a hospital in San Diego where doctors cleaned his wounds and finalized the amputation of his right leg below his knee.

A few weeks after leaving the hospital, Bud and his family began visiting prosthetic firms in the San Diego area.  He eventually received a leg that allowed him to resume his active lifestyle.  Despite an array of bureaucratic delays, he finally was able to re-take the agilities and skills tests necessary to win back his job as a federal firefighter.

Not only did he successfully pass the grueling exams, but his scores and times were better than when he originally joined the squad four years earlier.  Now he is America’s only amputee firefighter.  He credits today’s high-tech materials and prosthetic technology for his comeback.

“It took a lot of hard work, but with a proper fitting socket attached to a lightweight, durable prosthesis and an energy-storing foot, I was able to run and carry heavy weights despite being an amputee,” he said.

Bud now gets his prosthetic care and leg form Ability Prosthetics.

“Tony (Mendoza) is absolutely the finest fitter for amputees in San Diego,” Bud said.  “He has the experience and know-how as far as casting a residual leg and getting a perfect-fitting socket.”

Bud enjoys talking with new amputees at hospital visitations and with manufacturers of prosthetic products.

“I’ve done a lot of research into the artificial limbs industry and I like to pass along what I have found to new amputees and others so that they can improve their walking gaits, and perhaps pick up new forms of recreation like golf or swimming,” he said.

And what about his yen for off-road racing?

“Still into it,” Bud said with his trademark smile.  “I may be an amputee… but I’m not handicapped.”