By David Fleet
Roger Brasseur’s burns were severe.
The Pontiac resident’s injuries were caused when polyurethane paint fumes inside his shirt were ignited when he tossed a match on charcoal saturated with lighter fluid.
“I had been spraying paint on baby furniture in my garage,” recalled Brasseur, who along with wife Kay lived in Pontiac during the early 70s. “I hit the ground and rolled. It burned a 10 square foot area of grass around me. The fire would just not go out. So I ripped my cloths off. I then lost my glasses so I could not see.”
His wife, Kay along with a nurse who lived nearby drove him to St. Joseph Hospital.
“I got about half way there and I started getting a big fog over my eyes,” he recalled. “I think I burnt my eyes. I was burnt so bad it did not hurt. It was a warm summer night, like 90 degrees and they had to put five blankets on me because I was shivering so bad.”
The fire produced blisters on his arms and head. He was in the hospital for ten days recovering from his injuries which scared 15 percent of his body.
The burns would heal but the painful memories stayed with Brasseur.
The couple moved to Brandon Township in 1977.
“My neighbor in Brandon was Bob Chambers, he was a firefighter,” he said. “He asked me if I wanted to be on the fire department? I replied, Yes I would, I don’t want anyone to get burned like I did.”
Brasseur joined the Brandon Fire Department as a paid on call firefighter in May 1978, beginning a remarkable career that would span more than 40 years as a firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician and CPR instructor.
He retired on Aug. 6
“They just handed me my fire gear,” laughed Brasseur, now 70. “They were short handed at the time. My first call was a propane tank leak on Oakwood Road. They asked me if I could drive the truck. I said, ‘yes I could drive that truck.’ So I got there and Sgt. McArthur said engage the (water) pump. I said, ‘what?’ I thought you said you could drive any truck? ‘I could,’ I told him, I just don’t know how to operate it.’”
Brasseur’s dedication to the fire department along with commitment to helping others would endure a host of stressful situations.
One of the worse calls ever, recalls Brasseur was a car in the ditch near Oakwood and Granger roads.
“I looked at the car and I noticed it had a (firefighter) light bar on it,” he said. “I got down in there and crawled in the vehicle. It was one of one of our fireman that had been on Brandon (Fire Department). He had moved and got on a neighboring department. There was nothing I could do (for him). We had fought fires together. I was pretty shook up. I told Chief McArthur when he arrived at the scene, I was not going to run medicals anymore. It hit me pretty hard.”
A few weeks later Brasseur returned to medical calls and fire calls.
“I was fighting a big factory fire in Ortonville several years ago,” he said. “The roof was starting to fall in, so I yelled to get my crew out of the building. But I stayed in until they could leave. Part of the roof landed on me but, my helmet saved my life. After that they called me “Hardhead.”
Another memorable call was a township barn fire.
“They had pigs in there,” he said. “Did you ever try to get pigs out of a burning building? The pigs are riled up and you fight to get them out. They are slippery too. I got one pig out but she ran right back in. They were wet and muddy.”
Despite the battles, Brasseur said he enjoyed every bit of it.
“I liked being a firefighter,” he said. “I loved helping people. We try to keep the pain down for people when there’s a loss. The house can be rebuilt, but the pictures and personal items can’t. We try not to over spray water and hold on to what we can. We try to put tarps over furniture if we can.”
Following a fire at a township mobile home community, Brasseur reached out to a family pet.
“They brought the dogs out of the home,” he said. “We knew the pet was not going to make it, but we tried. It was tough to do mouth to mouth on the dog. But, when you’re out there you do your best to save anything personal you can.”
Years ago during the Ortonville Day’s festival the fire chief sent Brasseur out to get a cat out of tree.
“They had a pet parade,” he laughed. “I took the ladder and climbed up there got the cat out of there. The cat was really scratching me. I looked down and there was the little girl looking up at her cat. I did not want to drop the cat although I wanted to. She thanked me.You have to take it with a grain of salt.”
Over the four decades Brasseur has seen many changes in the fire department.
“I’m one of the old smoke eaters,” he said. “The air packs were heavy and we did not wear them. Now it’s mandatory and it’s a good thing. We have better turnout gear today. It used to be just a long coat and boots. We also defibrillate patients today, it’s made a big difference.”
It’s a team effort in Brandon Township.
“Our deputies out here are fantastic,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of them over the years.”
Brasseur, a long time employee of Pontiac based Herks Auto Supply and auto technician will continue to work on the departments fire trucks.
“My heart will always be with the Brandon Fire Department,” he said.