Ex-fire chief describes terror from accident

Posted at 6:55 PM, May 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-04 21:55:51-04

A San Diegan and former fire chief spoke to 10News about the freak accident that left him scarred for life.

10News caught up with Matt Shobert running up and down the steps at the San Diego Convention Center, training for a triathlon.

"Right now, exercise makes me feel the best," said Shobert.

His fight to feel better is a daily one.

"I've got about 18 inches of scars on my face," said Shobert.

On July 2, 2014, the Murrieta fire chief was first on scene at a part of town where a brush clearing operation was taking place.

"It was hot, dry and windy," said Shobert.

One second, he was standing near his SUV.

"The next moment, I woke up face down in the dirt. My hands were numb and tingling," said Shobert.

He saw lots of blood.

"When I reached up to touch my face, a part of my face was missing and sheer terror took over," said Shobert.

Also taking over was his training.

"I grabbed a T-shirt and stuffed it in the hole," said Shobert.

He got into his SUV and drove for help, before eventually radioing for help. His fellow firefighters raced to the scene and fought to save his life.

After he was flown to a hospital, and after surgery, he would survive the horrific injury. An X-ray taken later showed a gaping hole in his left jaw.

"It's such a freak thing. I'm still dumbfounded," said Shobert.

Days later, he learned what happened.

A brush mower cutting brush had launched a fist-sized rock. It flew the length of half a football field, striking Shobert in the face.

The impact also rattled his head, causing a brain injury.

Shobert was forced to medically retire.

"They put a steel plate in and grafted bone from my hips to the jaw and grew the bone," said Shobert.

After six reconstructive surgeries and a PTSD diagnosis, Shobert is now hoping to shine a light on what he calls firefighters' dirty little secret -- PTSD and suicide.

"I contemplated suicide, and if I had had a weapon in the house, I would have used it," said Shobert.

He asked for help and got it, but he said the number of firefighters committing suicide remains two times higher than those who are killed in the line of duty -- and not enough people are talking about it.

"The days of 'suck it up buttercup' … I'm trying to put behind us,'" said Shobert.

Shobert has shared his story with fire crews, law enforcement groups, classes and veterans groups.

Shobert just started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the nonprofit group that helped him with his PTSD treatment.

-- San Diego County Crisis Line: 1-888-724-7240
-- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255