Jason Brushke always protected himself.

"As a firefighter, he's seen all the things that can go wrong," Brushke's sister, Erin Searles, said.

He wore his helmet and chest-guard when he rode his motorcycle. He had a good job and health insurance. But in the end, it just wasn't quite enough.

So Tuesday evening, scores of people — friends, family, strangers — gathered at a Salt Lake tavern to help make up the difference, raising money for Brushke and his family as he recovers from a motorcycle accident that will change his life forever.

"He's one of the most loved men at the station," said Salt Lake Fire Capt. Todd Hoover. "He's just one of those guys that everyone respects. We talk about stand-up guys. He's one of them."

Like Brushke, Hoover is a veteran and his job has well acquainted him with tragedy. He is a grown man. A firefighter. And when he talked about his friend, he cried.

"So much of our lives is spent picking people up at accidents," Hoover said. "When it happens to somebody at the station, it resets the value."

In late April, Brushke was riding his motorcycle alone on some sand dunes in central Utah when he crashed.

When his friends found him sometime later, Brushke wasn't breathing. "You have to breathe for your kids," one of them said. And he did.

Brushke lay in a coma for several weeks following the accident. Eventually, he stirred. He exchanged written communication with family. He told them he needed to get home to his wife and three children.

"They're obviously devastated," Searles said. "They're not used to seeing their rock, their father in the state he is in."

Brushke was eventually moved to University Hospital in Salt Lake City, where he is undergoing intense physical therapy and making huge strides, his sister said.

He recognizes his fellow firefighters when they come to visit. And they recognize that he might not be able to do the job he loved again.

"It's a long uphill road for him — if there's a road at all," Hoover said. "We're playing this week by week. It's in God's hands, not ours."

Anyone interested can make donations in Brushke's name at the Fireman's Credit Union, 124 W. 1400 South.

E-mail: [email protected]