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Tampa fire captain diagnosed with leukemia now ready to help others

Tampa fire Chief Tom Forward, left, welcomes Capt. William Glass on his first day back to work at Station 13.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Tampa fire Chief Tom Forward, left, welcomes Capt. William Glass on his first day back to work at Station 13.

TAMPA — Doctors told William Glass he might not make it through the night.

Leukemia and chemotherapy had caused blood clots and liver and kidney failure. Glass' wife was by his side.

And so was his other family: Tampa Fire Rescue.

A stream of firefighters flocked to the hospital that April day to visit Capt. Glass, a 17-year veteran. Lt. Tim Shuman watched television with his ailing friend, and they walked the halls long into the night.

Eight months later, Glass climbed into a fire engine to go help someone else.

Wednesday was his first day back at work. He's in remission.

"It's overwhelming," he said after greetings from the fire chief and a special lunch. "I'm just happy to be back with my crew."

Months ago, this day seemed unlikely.

Glass was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on March 29, after blood work done for unrelated reasons returned alarming results.

He counts himself lucky. Doctors told him if it had been diagnosed just two months later, it likely would have been terminal.

Only about a quarter of those diagnosed survive.

When Fire Rescue Station 13 heard the news, its employees immediately set up a schedule of people willing to work unpaid shifts so Glass, 39, would continue to be paid. Others across the department joined.

When he needed blood transfusions, nearly 200 people donated and overwhelmed the blood bank.

Firefighters mowed Glass' lawn and bought gift cards from Publix, restaurants and, for his kids, the movie theater.

"You always hear of the brotherhood at the department," said Glass' brother, Jim Glass. "When stuff like this happens, you really see it."

On Wednesday, the employees at Station 13, which is near Busch Gardens, hid in the kitchen. When Glass walked in, they surprised him with balloons, a sign and doughnuts.

"It's just miraculous," Shuman said.

Glass will continue to go in for checkups, but he says doctors believe he has made a full recovery. He's happy to be alive and to be there for his 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.

And he's happy to be back to work.

A doctor recently reminded him that his first question after they discussed his treatment plan was, "When can I go back to the fire station?"

Glass has wanted to be a firefighter since high school. He and his brother — who works for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue — loved the television show Emergency, about Los Angeles paramedics. At 22, Glass joined Tampa's department.

He didn't sleep well Tuesday night, he was so nervous. But when he put back on his uniform, it felt good.

At 6:20 a.m., as he was about to leave his house, he was surprised to hear his son call out to him. The boy kissed his father.

"Have a good day back at work, dad," he said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa fire captain diagnosed with leukemia now ready to help others 11/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 12:20am]
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