Pictured are old Clinton Township Fire Department trucks as seen in 1969. The department celebrates its 75th anniversary this month.

Pictured are old Clinton Township Fire Department trucks as seen in 1969. The department celebrates its 75th anniversary this month.

Photo provided by Clinton Township Fire Department


Clinton Township firefighters reflect on department's 75th anniversary

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published October 26, 2020

 Firefighters work on a fire at Woody’s Hillcrest Country Club in 1970.

Firefighters work on a fire at Woody’s Hillcrest Country Club in 1970.

Photo provided by Clinton Township Fire Department

 Cats are rescued and taken care of by members.

Cats are rescued and taken care of by members.

Photo provided by Clinton Township Fire Department

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — In 1974, the television program “Emergency!” made Paul Brouwer, 72, keen on becoming a firefighter.

“It was all the rage at the time,” he recalled.

The current township emergency manager since 1991, he spent about 30 years in the Clinton Township Fire Department before retiring in 2004 as deputy chief of operations. The emergency manager position is separate from CTFD.

This month, the CTFD celebrates 75 years in operation. The department, which has five stations, serviced nearly 14,000 calls in 2019.

Brouwer was part of the first HAZMAT technician class with the Michigan State Police, developing a team of around 20 technicians and a couple specialists in the late ‘80s — one of the biggest in Macomb County.

He went from HAZMAT to working in specialties like high-angle rescues and confined spaces, to going on ambulance runs and being a first responder with EMTs.

“Now, every person in the suppression division is a full-blown paramedic,” he said.

“The training that allows you to do things in hostile environments and allow you to come out relatively whole is a big part,” he added.

One of the common misconceptions about the profession, he said, is the hours on duty and the way scheduling is utilized to maintain cost savings while offering the best service.

“Your No. 1 priority is to serve the public,” he said. “They’re your people. Service, that’s what it’s all about — serving and doing the best job you can possibly do. Now, we have the most luscious green garden of public servants in the fire and police departments in this township that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. It almost brings tears to my eyes, the dedication that all of these people have.”

Memories are numerous, he said, though some stick out in his mind more than others.

He remembers one of his fellow firefighters dying from cancer. He recalls being on the scene when a young girl was killed by a drunk driver. But he also remembers bringing life into the world, once delivering two babies.

“That’s the two ends of it, seeing a young person die and another person born. Once you’re in this family, you make friendships and relationships with people,” Brouwer said. “When someone loses their wife, that’s still part of the department. When you walk, you don’t leave it all behind. Some do.”

 

‘These events do add up over time’
Current CTFD Chief Tim Duncan joined the department on May 8, 1999. He has spent the last 21 1/2 years of his life serving the township and its residents.

He began as a firefighter with a paramedic’s license, running as a medical first responder before the department upgraded to the EMT level. It led to advanced life support services currently provided.

He was promoted to lieutenant on April 20, 2016, and later became chief on Jan. 20, 2018.

“Early on in my life I grew up in Fraser and was exposed to a number of fathers who served as Fraser Public Safety officers that I met via friends that I played sports (with), or went to school with,” Duncan said. “I always had it in the back of my mind.”

He graduated with a business and marketing degree from Michigan State University in 1987, followed by nearly 12 years of work in the finance arm of General Motors.

Originally pursuing a career as a police officer, he opted for the fire academy instead and put himself through the academy during night courses. He completed EMT and paramedic programs. The rest is history.

“I essentially wanted a more fulfilling career and one in which I felt like I was giving back to the community,” he said. “I always enjoyed the ‘team’ aspect of playing sports and felt I would be joining a profession that valued that, and I was right.”

He praises the people he works with on a daily basis, saying the profession has the same ebbs and flows as any other. Firefighters don’t look at themselves in a “hero” aspect, he said. They continually try to do the best they can for others.

“I’d say one area where people may not understand us as a group is in how we handle traumatic experiences,” he said. “It may appear that we take a casual approach on scene and don’t appear to be suffering from what we do and see on a near-daily basis, but these events do add up over time.

“We care deeply about the loss of any life and the trauma that people deal with, but we have to find ways to suppress those feelings in order to complete the care that is necessary. The ability to handle these experiences is what most amazes me about the people I work with.”

It’s a mixed bag of emotions. Telling someone that they or their loved ones will be all right is a “special feeling,” Duncan acknowledged, while being involved in infant or child mortalities are experiences that never seem to fade away.

 

Passed on from generation to generation
Todd Stevens joined the CTFD on March 22, 1993.

He’s run the gamut with in-house positions, including firefighter, paramedic, lieutenant, battalion chief and now deputy chief of operations.

His career was inspired by his father and two uncles, all of whom worked for the Detroit Fire Department.

“I just liked the stories they told as a kid,” he said. “I also never heard them complain about going to work; they actually looked forward to it. I could never sit still so I liked the idea of having a job that was always changing and never the same.”

A common misconception, he said, is that firefighters sit around all day and play cards when in reality, it is their “second home” and they are at the station for periods up to 24 hours. They do chores and accomplish other necessary tasks to keep the department moving forward.

Sometimes, an individual will thank them for saving an irreplaceable family heirloom from a house fire. Other times, outcomes are terrible. Such was the case with run for a non-breathing infant.

“At the time I was a new father,” Stevens said, “and when I went home that morning and went to check on my baby, she was laying in her crib sleeping — just like the child we went on that night. That caused a wave of panic and anxiousness that sticks with me to this day, and probably for the rest of my life — and that was nine years ago.”

 

Finding personnel for the future
“I would say one of the biggest challenges the department and profession faces is in finding the next generation of firefighters,” Duncan said. “Twenty-plus years ago there would be 1,000 or more candidates taking the entry test. Now, we generally average 50 to 75 when applications are taken.

“Part of this is that the career has become more of a medical profession requiring a paramedic’s license upon hiring in most municipalities. It is also a very physical job at times. Making sure we continue to grow and evolve with the technological advances will also be crucial.”

But technology has improved even in the past five years, he added. The sharing of hazardous materials and technical rescue teams will remain crucial throughout Macomb County in years to come. Transferring dispatch services to COMTEC has proven fruitful.

Brouwer, who still meets every few months with old colleagues to catch up at local eateries, said the post 9/11 generation feels different.

Now, there are two nearby hospitals for convenience. Millages have been continually approved by residents. Still, training remains central to being a member of a unit that aims to service the public and do it with respect.

“I’m just glad to be around to see the 75th,” he said. “Once it’s in your blood, it never goes away.”

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