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Injured Officer Walking Again After Sandy Tree Fall

Bob Franco faces long recovery, but he's 'bound and determined to get back to the way things were.'

Wayne Police Officer Bob Franco is walking.

Franco is rehabilitating from the severe spinal cord injury he suffered during Superstorm Sandy.

“I’m walking, although it’s unsteady, I’m walking, which I’m very happy for,” Franco said in a telephone interview Monday evening from his rehab center's bed. “I’m advancing every day and won’t accept anything less.”

Franco, 42, was pinned under a tree that fell on his patrol car at Fire Co. 5 on Lake Drive West Oct. 29, while responding to the scene of a ruptured gas line on the street.

Franco pulled up to speak to Assistant Company Chief John Neukum to determine if the road needed to be closed. Moments later, the tree fell on both his and Neukem's vehicles.

It took paramedics an hour to remove Franco from the vehicle.

In addition to walking, Franco, a father of three, has very limited mobility in his arms and neck. 

Franco remembers every second of the horrific ordeal.

“The tree didn’t bounce, there was no bounce. It just crunched straight down. I thought I was going to die,” Franco said as his wife held the phone up to his head. “I said whatever prayers I could and thought of my family.”

Franco’s head was pinned into his right shoulder; his bulletproof vest was strangling him.

Franco said there were live electrical wires around the vehicles.

“Everyone who was at that scene took a risk saving me,” Franco said. “I owe all those guys my life.”

Capt. Mark McGrath, Franco’s longtime friend and fellow police officer, was one of those guys.

“He pulled the vest down so I could breathe. He kept repeating: ‘I got you pal.’ He kept reassuring me that everything was going to be OK,” Franco said.

McGrath said he simply came to the aid of a friend.

“I just wanted to let him know that I was there,” McGrath said. “That kind of thing happens to first responders every day but you can’t think about that when you’re out there doing your job during something like a hurricane. We’ve known each other for years and I know he would have done the same thing for me without hesitation.”

Neukem escaped the incident with only minor injuries.

“I can’t explain what happened because I know what the outcome should have been,” Neukem said. “If it wasn’t for him, if he wasn’t there, I would have been dead. He saved me and I saved him.”

Franco was immobilized in the days following the accident but is slowly regaining his ability to move.

He said he has received cards and well wishes from across the country.

Local residents have also shown their support. The police department has set up a donation fund. Two residents held a charity run earlier this month. Fairway Market in Woodland Park will donate a portion of sales this Thursday to Franco and his family.

But he isn’t letting his physical limitations prevent him from looking toward the future. Franco wants to continue keeping Wayne safe and enjoying life.

“I have a wife and kids to get back to and take care of and I have a career to finish,” Franco said. “I am bound and determined to get back to the way things were. I need to be able to fully use my arms and legs again so I can give each one of those people who helped me that day a great big bear hug."

— Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Daniel Hubbard at Daniel.Hubbard@patch.com or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Mary Siniscalchi November 13, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and you're family. You have always been and outstanding individual Bob keep up the postitive attitude I look forward to seeing on the job again soon!!
Nose Wayne November 13, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Glad to see Officer Franco starting to walk and progress every day. All of Wayne is cheering for you Bob for a speedy recovery.
Carol Dziuba November 13, 2012 at 12:56 PM
This made me cry. I am so happy to read this. Prayers and best wishes for your continued recovery. My husband and I drove past the scene of the accident hours after it occurred, and all I can say is the rescue was an absolute miracle. We are all pulling for you.
Lou Coviello November 13, 2012 at 01:42 PM
You are an inspiration to us all. Prayers for your continued recovery, Officer Franco.
courtney fitzpatrick November 13, 2012 at 03:07 PM
So glad to see Bobby recovering well, been praying for him every day! He will continue to be in my prayers. He is one of Wayne's finest and I am happy to see him back on his feet. God Bless you and your recovery process <3
Beth November 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM
We're all behind you Officer Franco! So happy to hear how well you're progressing. Wishing you a complete recovery very soon...
Lorraine November 13, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Bob I don't know you but I have been praying for you and your family since I first heard of your accident. Thank you for all you do, have done and will continue to do for our community. We need you back on the job!
Dave Philp November 13, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Stay strong!
Cathy Kazan November 13, 2012 at 06:53 PM
So happy to read the news of your progress Officer Franco. As one of your Wayne neighbors I want you to know you are prayed for and appreciated.
kaq November 14, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Way to go on recovery, Bob. We think of you and your family often.
Tyler Franco November 15, 2012 at 01:03 AM
https://www.facebook.com/groups/prayersforofficerbobfranco/?fref=ts
Tyler Franco November 15, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Thank you for your support. This is touching to read. Bob really appreciates everyones support
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