Rockwell firefighter learning independence after brain injury in car accident

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST William "Bill" Jacobs (left) and Brenda Butler look over a bunch of t-shirts from local fire departments that came to Joshua Jacobs who has been recovering from an automobile accident. Jacobs, a firefighter with Rockwell Rural Fire Department, suffered a severe head tramua resulting from a single car accident on Sept 26, 2012 while responding to a call. The tread on his tire came apart and he lost control of his Ford Explorer. He was thrown from the vehicle.

Josh Jacobs is anxious to cross items off his list of goals for the upcoming year, which include more than just getting healthy. His ultimate goal is to return to doing what he loves — firefighting.

Jacobs, 32, a Rockwell Rural Fire Department member for about 10 years, was seriously injured in a freak car accident on Sept. 26, 2012.

He was responding to an incident about two miles away on Fisher Road when the tire tread on his 1997 Ford Explorer tore apart and he lost control of the vehicle on Pop Basinger Road. The firefighter tried to maintain control of the vehicle, but it overturned. He was thrown from the Explorer, landing in the yard of a home.

He’d just left his father, Bill. The two were doing lawn maintenance for Bill’s company, Superior Services Unlimited, when Josh got a page. He asked his father if he could take the call and Bill watched him leave.


For nearly a month, Jacobs was unconscious and sedated. He suffered facial fractures, including a broken nose, and bleeding on his brain. But in mid-October, he awoke.

Josh said he does not remember the accident and most of his time at the Winston-Salem hospital.

Doctors said he had a brain injury that affects his short-term memory.

He had to be restrained because doctors didn’t want him to fidget with the tubes and wires that were connected to him, although he constantly managed to get out of them — so much so the nurses dubbed him “Houdini.”

Josh spent time in the intensive care unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and then was moved to a regular room once he woke up.

He then was transferred to the J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging and Rehabilitation, located on the campus of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where he was given acute rehabilitation.

While at the center, Josh had to learn how to feed himself, bathe and use the bathroom. His therapy sessions also included speech and physical.

Bill said his son responded well to the therapy, but because of his strength he had to be placed on drugs to manage his behavior.

Nurses and caregivers were instructed not to physically touch Josh, but respond to him verbally. A few therapists learned why the caveat was put in place when, like Hercules, Josh flung them backward when they grabbed for him.

When a false alarm sounded at the rehab center, Josh jumped from his bed and tried to get everyone out of the building to safety.

“Even heavily drugged and coming out of a coma, he never forgot who he was — a firefighter,” said Brenda Butler, Bill’s partner of 11 years.

Josh also has a condition called anosognosia, where a person seems unaware of his or her disabilities, which essentially means “he doesn’t realize his deficits,” Bill explained. But says Josh is “working to rectify them.”

When Josh gets discouraged, Bill gently reminds his son that his situation could be worse, and that “90 percent of the people with a similar brain injury don’t survive.”

There is an 18- to 20-month window of recovery for the healing of his brain to materialize. The majority of the recovery depends on Josh.

He began home visits a few days a week until he was released to come home permanently Jan. 13.

Butler said she saw a change in Josh while he was in rehab. In the beginning, he called his father regularly and as he began doing other things the calls lessened.

He’s returned to the fire department for visits and other gatherings, but ultimately wants to return to fighting fires. He would also like to return to his full-time job working as a security guard at PNG Security Co.

He moved into his own apartment in the Granite Quarry area and is working toward complete self-sufficiency.

Setting goals

A life coach spends five hours a day, five days a week with Josh and together they create goals like budgeting, cooking, maintaining a schedule and fitness. Heather Wright, a licensed certified occupational therapy assistant, along with Ron Peoples, another life coach, work with Josh on a variety of skills that eventually he’ll do on his own.

“The goal is to decrease the time that we are here,” Wright said.

The life coaches help Josh prepare a budget, buy groceries, go to the bank and learn the ins and outs of public transportation. His license was medically revoked, but he can eventually get it reinstated.

Wright and Peoples work for Neuro Community Care, a fairly new North Carolina-based company that helps people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or are part of the Wounded Warrior Project. The company is based in Wake Forest, but its reach is beyond North Carolina.

Neuro Community Care provides clients life skill development in their environment, which is designed to decrease the likelihood of repeated admissions to costly hospital and rehabilitation programs.

Josh has made great strides, Wright said.

Bill said he marvels at Josh’s fortitude to set goals and attain them.

“He has not surrendered,” Bill said.

Josh has enrolled at the Saleeby-Fisher YMCA in Rockwell in an effort to become healthier. He’s learned to cook his own meals, which he did not do before. Butler cooked all of his meals. Before the accident, Josh lived at home with his father and Brenda.

Part of his road to becoming more independent meant Josh needed to live on his own so that he could learn to do things on his own, Wright explained. He also wants to volunteer at Rowan Helping Ministries and re-establish friendships he had before the accident, he said.

“He’s come home and that’s through prayers from the churches and Sunday schools who continued to pray,” Bill said.

“It’s all in preparation to introduce him back into society here,” Wright said.

Wide support

Bill said the family is grateful to the firefighting community, strangers who prayed, and the support of members of Josh’s home church, Friendship Baptist Church in Salisbury, as well as friends of the family Bill and Kay Dover for their continued prayers and support.

“I just want to say thanks for supporting me,” Josh said.

Some friends have followed various Facebook posts made by Butler or through a Facebook page that was established called “Prayers for Fireman Josh Jacobs.”

Others had contacted Bill or Butler for regular updates, including Linda Benge, who called 911 after the accident.

Josh’s Explorer crashed in Benge’s front yard. She also prayed with Josh until emergency responders arrived.

She told Bill that the day when he told her Josh would be returning home was the best day of her life.

Visit Neuro Community Care at its website,, for more information about the organization.

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