A HERO firefighter from South Yorkshire told today how he is facing life in a wheelchair after a freak garden accident left him paralysed.
Young dad Gavin Walker, aged 27, from Thorpe Hesley, was at a garden party at his mum's in Brinsworth when tragedy struck.
He was walking on wet decking around a garden pool when he slipped, fell down three steps and landed on his head in the water - breaking his neck.
The dad-of-one, who spent most of his firefighting career at Mansfield Road fire station, Manor, Sheffield, said he knew instantly he was seriously injured.
Gavin realised he was unable to move his legs and as, shocked relatives rang for an ambulance, Gavin remained coolheaded and calmly told his family not to move him and just help him float on the water until medics arrived.
He was in hospital from the day of the accident - July 3 last year - until December 15, when he was allowed home in time for Christmas to the joy of wife Victoria and his young daughter Jasmine, aged 10 months.
Jasmine was just three months old when Gavin fell, changing his life
forever. Doctors have told the firefighter, who can use his arms but has no movement from the chest down, to expect to be paralysed for life.
Gavin said: They said if there was no significant change in the first two months after the accident it would be unlikely to ever happen so I have had to come to terms with it.
"The first few weeks were hard - I spent two weeks in traction and had an operation to fuse some of my vertebra together and then I spent 10 weeks on my back looking at the ceiling while it was healing. But I had family and friends there every single day and that support still hasn't stopped.
"My wife has been fantastic through it all and our daughter Jasmine keeps me positive."
Victoria said: "Gavin could have been in the garden on the decking time and time again and not have had the accident, it's just one of those freak accidents.
"Because of his job as a firefighter and the fact he was really fit anyway the doctors have said it has helped his recovery.
"Jasmine is keeping us both strong and she will never know any different - Gav will just be Daddy to her, the fact he is in a wheelchair will be something she will grow up with and won't know anything else."
Gavin is positive about the future, saying: "I hope to return to work and because I can move my arms I should be able to do an office job - I don't want this to stop me living life."
Friends, family, colleagues and even strangers are now fundraising for Gavin to help pay for equipment and home modifications. Some of the cash will be spent on a new wheelchair he hopes will give him more independence.
He is also looking for a car he will be able to drive with hand controls.
Gavin, who hopes to eventually return to work with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of cash already raised.
He said: "The fire service has organised a number of things, such as car washes, and family and friends have been raising money too - it is unbelievable how much support we have had.
"We have had money donated from people we don't even know so it has been impossible for us to trace them to say thank you but we want everyone to know how grateful we are and how appreciated their support is.
"We have been told we need to raise at least 13,500 before we can get any help from social services towards modifying our home, so that's what it will be going towards.
"At the moment I am living in the lounge, dining room and kitchen and everything is a struggle - just to get out of the house is hard because the door has a lip at the bottom which I have to get the wheelchair over, so the modifications such as a lift will really make a difference."