Polio Left Him Disabled at Age 3. He Became a Firefighter Anyway.


Sophia M. '25

Mr. Bruce Pennington stands on crutches in front of his excavator collection, a testament to his 50 years working in construction.

Bruce Pennington loves working hard to serve his community. For many years, he was a firefighter and a construction worker—even after contracting polio. In 1955, Mr. Pennington was diagnosed with polio at only three years old. He spent over a month in the hospital. At the time, doctors were still testing the polio vaccine. A short time later, the vaccine was released, but the damage was already done. Mr. Pennington had lost almost all function in his legs and feet.

When Mr. Pennington was released from the hospital, he traveled by crawling. Although on his knees, he never seemed to be still. When Pennington was 11, his father bought him a Gordon tractor to mow lawns—his first job of many. He later went on to conquer many jobs, including in construction, where he worked for 50 years.

At about 15, Mr. Pennington decided to become a firefighter. Beginning with only riding along and helping outside the fire, he later became an active driver for the department. Mr. Pennington said he got something out of doing good. He recently received an award for 55 years of service and was honored at a ceremony for his time. Mr. Pennington’s disability never stopped him from helping his community.

Q. How did you acquire polio?

A. When I was three years old I had my tonsils out. I bled a lot and swallowed the majority of the blood. The doctors had to pump my stomach. Then I was run down so the doctors had to give me half a pint of blood. Shortly after that, I came down with polio. The doctors think that the polio germ was in that blood. I was diagnosed in early 1955. During that time the scientists were testing a new vaccine for polio. It came out only three months after I was diagnosed.

What was it like living in the hospital?

I was in the hospital for a little over a month. I was in quarantine with other boys that also had polio. Mom and Dad could come visit me but they had to stand outside and see me through the window.

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What was your childhood like?

I pretty much crawled everywhere. They got me hooked up with braces on both legs. I would crawl on my knees so much that my blue jeans would wear out. My mom sewed patches because I was going through jeans like crazy. Of course, I walked with crutches too, and my left leg started to get stronger. My right leg never came back with any muscle power.

What was your motivation to keep pushing through life?

Having a purpose kept me motivated. When I was younger, I cut grass. My dad bought a Gordon tractor and it had a mower on it. I cut people in my neighborhood’’s yards and would plow snow in the wintertime. Then when I was 13, I went to work for my uncle on a farm. I went to work baling hay, picking corn, and still mowed grass. Then I worked at an eyeglasses company called Macromedia Kirk. I did that for about 10 years.

One day I wanted to see if I could run a bulldozer. When I did, I was hooked. I went and talked to different people that I knew in the business and they didn’t really do a lot because they were trying to protect me. Then I talked to a good friend of mine who said he would help me. I left Macromedia and went to work excavating.

When I was 16, I volunteered at the Talleyville Fire Station. I rode the trucks and did all the outside work when we got to the scene. As I got older I went to school to learn how to run the pumps on the trucks then started driving. When the alarm goes off, your adrenaline gets going. I like going into accidents and helping people. I always tell everyone, “Every little boy likes to play in the dirt and every little boy likes to ride firetrucks; I got to do both.”