Injured Hall County firefighter Stephen Jackson made his way down school hallways Wednesday morning, past hundreds of cheering students lined against the wall, into the arms of his wife, Misty.
Jackson, 27, suffered a serious back injury during a training exercise in July when the bucket atop a fire truck ladder he was in fell 44 feet. Firefighters TJ Elliott and Will Griffin were also injured.
Accompanied by several of his fellow firefighters and his baby son, he said his visit to Riverbend Elementary School was meant to surprise his wife, a second-grade teacher at the school.
Stephen Jackson told The Times he had nine vertebrae fused together and two 8-inch rods inserted to stabilize his back. He wears a plastic brace around his chest and back for support as he heals.
He said his wife has been incredible through this trying time,
particularly as he recovers at home after being released from the hospital a few weeks ago.
“It’s a way to say thank you,” he added. “She’s a teacher all day, a mom and my nurse.”
Misty Jackson said she “had no idea” the event was happening and welled up as students wearing plastic fire helmets screamed, clapped and waved signs calling Stephen Jackson a hero.
“It’s a testament to the community and school,” she said, adding that the family continues to receive letters and calls of support.
Misty Jackson said she was grateful to her school and fellow teachers who helped her prepare her classroom and get ready for the school year in the immediate aftermath of Stephen Jackson’s accident.
The community has rallied around the injured firefighters, donating food, hosting charity events and raising money for the family.
But Wednesday morning seemed extra special for Stephen Jackson and his wife.
Principal Debra Smith said community service is a big part of the school’s curriculum and it wanted to do all it could to honor Stephen Jackson’s sacrifice and support Misty Jackson.
“The kids are so excited,” Smith said.
And that was evident in the handwritten cards and expressions of gratitude students delivered to Stephen Jackson as he sat down with his wife for lunch in the cafeteria.
His fellow firefighters said they were inspired by his recovery and were visibly emotional, even tearing up at the response from students.
“We all chose the right career,” said Battalion Chief Chad Black, adding that the response from the community in the aftermath of the accident has reaffirmed why firefighters make the sacrifices they do.
Stephen Jackson said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support for him and his family, made all the more evident by the smiling faces of young students.
“My back and body may be broken, but my heart is so full today,” he said.