Injured Firefighter Finds New Career in Horticulture at PTC
A firefighter’s air supply is of vital importance, and Emily Galloway’s was running very low. Adding to that, she was trapped, wedged in by heavy steel and unable to move. Because she was horizontal on the ground with only her feet visible, her colleagues did not realize she was in trouble.
“I couldn’t move my arm to reach my mask and didn’t know how much air was left, but I knew it was low,” she recalled. “In firefighting, you face your death so many times in training that when it becomes real, the human element of freaking out is gone.”
Draped in full gear that brought her weight to 325 pounds, Galloway’s body was immobilized. She did the only thing she could to save herself. She mustered adrenalin-fueled, near-herculean strength to force her one moveable arm to somehow defy science and pull her entire body out of the tight spot. It worked, but that one move resulted in a career-ending injury.
“It happened while we were training. Firefighters train the way that they work. There are security and safety protocols in place, but this was the kind of thing you can’t plan for,” she explained. “I dislocated my shoulder and tore my labrum, ligaments, and rotator cuff. Surgeons had to completely reconstruct my shoulder. They couldn’t fix the entire labrum tear but put in anchors to hold it together. Still, my shoulder can slide out of place.” Surgery was a stopgap measure, not a cure. Galloway was advised that a complete failure of her shoulder was inevitable. In fact, she was officially, for the purposes of firefighting, permanently disabled.
What followed was devastation at giving up a career she loved and fought hard to attain, as well as understandable depression combined with a severe loss of confidence.
“I grew up in a first responder household,” Galloway said. “My father was a firefighter. I am the 4th generation in my family to go into firefighting.”
Galloway began working as a firefighter with the City of Clinton in 2019. The injury occurred only a year later. After a series of surgeries and physical therapy, a resigned Galloway decided to enroll in the Horticulture Technology Program at Piedmont Technical College (PTC) in the fall of 2022.
“I talked to Daniel (Daniel Greenwell, Horticulture Technology Program Director) about the physical requirements,” she said. “At the time, I had no confidence. I was broken. I couldn’t see beyond firefighting.”
Well into the program, Galloway is focusing on a new love — landscape management. It seems a natural choice since the Charleston native works part time for her parents’ property maintenance business, Atkins Property Maintenance LLC, in the Holy City. Both she and her father also hold licenses in Commercial Pesticide Application.
“Landscape design is basically an office job, and there is a leadership component that I like,” she said. “My goal with horticulture is to do what I can and what I love for now,” before the shoulder further deteriorates, which is medically expected.
Greenwell has been impressed with Galloway’s drive and determination.
“Emily is extremely hard-working. It’s amazing to me that she is able to keep up with everything that she does,” Greenwell said. “She is very involved. We offer a lot of opportunities for students, and she takes advantage of as many as she can.”
Earlier this year, Galloway was among six PTC horticulture students who traveled to Mississippi State University to compete in the 47th Annual National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC). Galloway’s three-member team placed fifth nationwide out of 45 colleges in the category of Landscape Plant Installation. It was a pivotal moment.
“The NCLC competition was a blast. I can’t wait until 2024,” Galloway said. “Even though I can’t install landscapes forever, I can still be a leader. … The NCLC changed my entire perspective!”
Recently, Galloway was selected to serve as an ambassador at the National Association of Landscape Professionals Elevate National Conference in Dallas, TX, in September. It is a great honor. Only about eight college students in the country are invited.
At PTC, Galloway continues to excel, raising her own bar higher and higher. She is a member of the college’s Honors Program and represents PTC as a Presidential Ambassador. In addition, she just recently was named president of the college’s Horticulture Club.
“Last fall, my goal was to make the President’s List. I made the Dean’s List instead,” she noted, “but I made the President’s List (4.0 GPA) both this spring and summer. I did that just to see if I could.”
Galloway lives in Laurens with her husband, Adam, who is a law enforcement officer. She quipped that they make a good match because they share the first responder dark humor.
In her spare time, Galloway enjoys sewing. She sees it not so much as a hobby but as a form of self care for her PTSD. Her specialty is hair bows, which she usually donates to the state Department of Social Services or Connie Maxwell Children’s Ministries. The thank you cards and photos of smiling children that she receives are priceless to her. She also uses fabric swatches to create lap blankets to donate to the Lowcountry Firefighter Support Team.
“I like to sew because it takes precision and brain power,” she said. “Also, I can’t sew and stress at the same time.”
• Emily Galloway
• Emily Galloway suited up on a fire truck
• Emily Galloway with husband, Adam