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      Injured La Plata firefighter returns home with fire truck escort

      A longtime northeast Missouri firefighter burned in a blaze at his own home three weeks ago got quite the welcome home late Wednesday afternoon.

      Former La Plata Fire Chief Jerry Thomas returned from Columbia, where he's been undergoing treatment for his first-degree, second-degree and third-degree burns.

      Not just anyone gets a fire truck escort home from the hospital, but Thomas did.

      His fellow firefighters from La Plata Fire and Rescue know how to make a guy feel welcome.

      "It's just such an outpouring of support from the people of the community, and I've had so much support from especially emergency services people in Adair County, Macon County and even Boone County,â?? said Thomas. â??It's just absolutely overwhelming."

      Thomas' nightmare began at around 1:30 a.m. May 24 when he and his brother, who was visiting, were awakened by a blaring smoke detector.

      "He wasn't sure what it was, and I told him the house was on fire, get out, and then I went and got Peggie out of bed and got her out," said Thomas.

      Twenty-seven percent of Thomas' body was burned, including his face, shoulders, upper left arm and his hands. He thinks he got most of his burns after he had gotten his wife and brother out of the house.

      "I went back into the bedroom and got my cell phone, which was a foolish thing to do, and then when I went to go out the back door, the heat was just, I didn't think I was going to make it,â?? said Thomas. â??I didn't think I could make it through. It was just unbearable."

      After years of fighting fires at other people's homes, his house was the last one Thomas thought would catch on fire.

      "Several of my friends said, 'Well, you've been in a fire like that before,' and I said, 'But not in my undershorts. (laugh)"

      Thomas still has a sense of humor despite all that's happened. Thomas says his faith in God and the love of support of family and friends are what pulled him through.

      Thomas told KTVO he believes the fire that destroyed his home started in the garage, but the damage was so extensive, investigators couldn't pinpoint the cause.

      His brother received minor injuries in the blaze. His wife was not hurt.

      Thomas is expected to make a full recovery. The doctors told him that if he hadn't have been in such good shape, he likely would not have survived.

      The physicians also told him that a year from now, no one will ever be able to tell he was a burn victim.