Jason Schechterle was living his dream, just 14 months into a career with the Phoenix Police Department, when tragedy struck.
His patrol car was rear-ended by a taxi traveling over 100 miles per hour, causing his gas tank to explode and the car to burst into flames with him trapped inside -- an accident he shouldn't have, and almost didn't, survive. He spent five months in the hospital, two and a half months in a coma, and several more years just trying to get past his injuries.
In the years since, Jason has become a hometown hero. He’s received numerous awards, carried the Olympic torch in 2003, and even inspired an Arizona company to develop groundbreaking technology that can actually stop the gas tanks in vehicles from exploding on impact - something that will prevent what happened to Jason from happening to others.
Firetrace's technology is now being used in tens of thousands of police and emergency vehicles across the U.S., as well as over 30,000 military vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Defense has stressed that this technology is vital and will save lives, because military vehicles are designed only to resist the explosion from an attack or IED, so when a convoy is hit, the gas tanks rupture and the troops get burned by the flames. Same goes for some police cars when they get struck.
Mark Cavanaugh, CFO and SVP of Firetrace says, “If there is something that we can do to make their jobs easier and to help bring them home safely… there is no better feeling. We get letters from parents and soldiers saying "your technology helped save our lives" and to me, you can’t wish for more than that.” He likens the system to “having a firefighter standing near the risk area all the time.”
In addition to the saving of lives, studies show it will also save money, because burn injuries are very expensive to care for. Between the acute care that is needed initially, and the resulting long-term care of a soldier, you are looking at 8 to 12 million dollars per solider over their lifetime. It is a significant cost and is something that can actually be prevented.
Sadly, there are still over 300 thousand emergency vehicles on the road without this technology, something Jason is hoping to change.
He is currently lobbying cities across the country to ensure that ALL vehicles, particularly military and emergency vehicles with these tanks are outfitted with fire panels. Most recently, he worked with the City of Boston and the local government to secure legislation to outfit the city's police cars.
Jason has also started a non-profit organization called "Beyond the Flames." He travels around the country sharing his story and giving motivational speeches, hoping to help and inspire others who have been through similar tragedies.
He says, “What I most want people to know is that my story is a representation of the adversity that we all face in life and I want people to look at me and believe that whatever they are going through right now, they are going to be able to overcome it and get past it. Life is such a beautiful experience and there is no reason to trade a day of it just because you go through a few speed bumps or go down a different path.”
Jason calls himself "the luckiest man in the world."