Gwinnett firefighter’s vigil for injured daughter: ‘please wear helmets’


Caroline Wirl, 17, hasn’t left the hospital since she was injured skateboarding on July 4, but her name is traveling around the country.

Firefighters in Savannah, Doraville, Smyrna and Rockdale County; in Pittsburgh, Tallahassee, New York and Sacramento, Calif.; even in Tavira, Portugal, are putting Caroline’s name on their duty rosters and hoisting signs that read “Caroline Rides With Us.”

All are praying for the recovery of a firefighter’s daughter with a winning spirit and a remarkable group of friends.

The Mountain View High School student suffered a traumatic brain injury when she fell early this month. She wasn’t wearing a helmet, though her father, Gwinnett firefighter Gary Wirl, always insisted that she should.

She was taken to Gwinnett Medical Center, where she underwent surgery to remove a part of her skull to relieve pressure on the brain, according to Gary Wirl’s Facebook page.

In the meantime, firefighters around the country, part of what they call The Brotherhood, began showing their solidarity. They posted photos of Caroline’s name on duty rosters, and included Gary Wirl’s “fire number,” 568, which is like a badge number for firefighters.

Gary created a Praying for Caroline Facebook page that has 3,400 followers, where he keeps his community updated on Caroline’s progress.

On Sunday Gary Wirl reported in a text message that Caroline had been able to respond to a request from a neurologist to lift two fingers on command. Then Sunday evening she breathed on her own for four hours, a “breathing test” to determine the prospects of removing her ventilation tube.

“There’s a good chance she’ll come off the vent tomorrow but they don’t know if she’ll breathe all on her own quite yet,” he wrote Sunday night.

A fellow firefighter set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses. Caroline’s mother Jenny Blair Wirl wrote that the fund has allowed her to opportunity to stay with her daughter day and night.

“As a hairdresser, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid,” she wrote on the Praying for Caroline page. “Y’all have given me time with Caroline, that can never be repaid.” (On Monday the fund was at $21,000.)

Friends and acquaintances have also cooked meals, mowed lawns and tended to pets. Many, including some high profile friends, have been wearing yellow bracelets marked “Praying for Caroline.” At the New Kids on the Block concert Friday at Duluth’s Infinite Energy Arena, lead singer Donnie Wahlburg was seen wearing what looked like a yellow Caroline bracelet.

Gary Wirl declined to be interviewed, writing in a text message that the family is focusing on Caroline, but his feelings are apparent in his Facebook postings. He feels regret that he didn’t insist on a helmet when Caroline went skating on Independence Day.

“If only I put my foot down,” he wrote. “If only I’d been the dad that didn’t compromise or negotiate.”

And he hopes others can benefit from the experience. “My prayer is that Caroline fully heals and comes back to us. My second prayer is that someone learns from this so they won’t have to endure this pain.”

As for himself, “If I’ve learned anything this week,” he wrote last Friday, “it’s that God is great, life is good, and humans are capable of doing such beautiful things for each other.”



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