WEST POINT, Ind. (WLFI) - What seemed to be typical mop-up work after a fire changed in an instant for West Point Volunteer Fire Chief Gary Cheesman.
"The instant it happened, 'oh my goodness, I just lost an eye for a vacant house'," Cheesman said.
It's a chance maybe one in a million.
A fire with suspicious origins broke out January 23 on County Road East 1400 North in Fountain County near Attica. West Point firefighters fought from the outside because it was vacant.
Cheesman said the house had hundreds of rounds of ammunition inside. Firefighters had heard bullets explode as the fire ran its course, but thought none of the possible projectiles were traveling beyond the structure.
Cheesman said the flames had settled down and he had walked to the back of the house to discuss what firefighters should do next. Because he was running the pumper truck and was wearing a radio around his head, he wasn't wearing his helmet.
That's when it happened.
"There was a bang that went off," Cheesman said. "It felt like someone punched me."
A primer cap from a .223 caliber bullet entered in the corner of his eye by his nose and lodged behind the eyeball.
"I thought I lost it," Cheesman said. "I thought 'this old house, that's worth nothing, and I lose an eye over it'."
Anywhere else on his face and doctors think he would have had just a scratch.
Paramedics rushed Cheesman to the hospital.
Surgery last week put the primer cap where it belonged, in a plastic container, along with the bullet that the cap came from.
As for Cheesman's vision, "It's getting better, but it's still blurry."
Doctors have told Cheesman they are hopeful his vision clears completely in four to eight weeks. But he's not stepping down from the fire department.
"Oh, no," Cheesman said. "Once it's in your blood, it's there."
Cheesman said he's been overwhelmed by the response from fellow firefighters and other emergency personnel since January 23.
He hopes his story serves as a reminder to everyone who work in potentially dangerous situations, to always wear protective eye gear.
Because of the injury, if an arsonist is caught, he or she will face stiffer charges.