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 Fraser Public Safety Interim Director Mike Pettyes makes remarks while flanked by the Fraser Honor Guard outside Fraser City Hall. The city hosted a memorial ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the on-duty death of Fraser firefighter David Sutton.

Fraser Public Safety Interim Director Mike Pettyes makes remarks while flanked by the Fraser Honor Guard outside Fraser City Hall. The city hosted a memorial ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the on-duty death of Fraser firefighter David Sutton.

Photo by Sean Work


Fraser firefighter remembered on 20th anniversary of death

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 11, 2020

 A rose rests on the memorial March 4.

A rose rests on the memorial March 4.

Photo by Sean Work

 Members of the Fraser Public Safety Honor Guard render a salute.

Members of the Fraser Public Safety Honor Guard render a salute.

Photo by Sean Work

FRASER — If you ask those who were closest to David Sutton, they will tell you it feels like they just saw him yesterday.

Sutton, 27, died March 4, 2000, in a Fraser apartment fire caused by arson. He and his partner at the time, Rob Kokko, were the first firefighters on scene, attempting to save a life on the second floor.

A fatality investigation by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health determined Sutton died from asphyxiation.

A 20-year remembrance ceremony took place March 4 outside Fraser City Hall, at the corner of 14 Mile and Garfield roads. In attendance were Sutton’s wife, Michelle; his father, Doug; his sisters; his nieces; his friends; and numerous firefighters and public safety officers paying their respects.

The ceremony began with the Fraser Honor Guard. Mike Carnagie, the city mayor and commander of the Honor Guard, told those in attendance: “It’s a day this department, this community will never forget.”

Fraser Public Safety Interim Director Mike Pettyes said Carnagie deserves gratitude for honoring Sutton’s life all these years, raising fundraising to keep the memorial going annually.

Pettyes remembers the night, and the “memories of guilt and what we could have done.” Sutton was caught in a backdraft in the apartment — what Pettyes called “the most unfortunate circumstance” — and could not have died in a more honorable way.

“I know Dave is looking down on us,” Pettyes told the gathered crowd.

Kokko has been a Clinton Township firefighter the past 18 years. He said it’s always good to remember his former partner, admitting that “it goes by fast.” The pair were in the Fire Academy together, working together for a couple years until they were the first ones in the burning apartment at about 5 a.m. on that day.

“I expected him to be in the hospital with me, in the burn unit,” said Kokko, who was 32 at the time.

“They didn’t tell me for a little while that he had passed. They wanted me to keep fighting for my life. I teach at the Fire Academy and try to tell everybody what happened here and how we better ourselves.”

Doug Sutton, of Clinton Township, called his son a hard worker who always had an affinity for being a firefighter.

“It sure doesn’t (feel like 20 years) because I think about him every day anyways,” Doug said. “I know I sure do miss him every day. It seems like it just happened.”

David was known to everyone as a gym rat with an infectious smile, someone who would do anything for anyone and reveled in his large group of friends. He even got his father into weightlifting — something he still does to this day.

“(David) just had a great life going and they had to take it away from him,” Doug said. “I always think in my head, how come it’s always the good people and nice people (that) are the ones that die?”

Deanna Coursey, of Roseville, and her sister are two of the four Sutton children still alive. She remembers her only brother as a “jokester” with a “big heart.”

“He had the best smile ever, and he would do anything for anybody,” she said. “That’s why he got into this kind of work.”

She became emotional as she recalled his hugs. Of her three daughters, two were alive at the time of his death and only one remembers him. Her family has considered Kokko as a brother and son the past two decades.

“I’m feeling a lot of gratitude, actually, for all those who have been supportive of the Sutton family and extended family — all that Fraser firefighters and PSOs do for this community,” Coursey said. “(I’m) missing my brother for sure, wondering what he would have done and where he’d be. … It sometimes feels like yesterday, and sometimes it feels like 20 years.”

In the years following his death, more than 15,000 children and adults have been educated through the fire safety house. A total of 32 firefighters have benefited from money raised in Sutton’s memory.

Carnagie was at the fire that night. He can’t believe it’s been 20 years. When he heard the call, he had a feeling his fellow firefighters were in trouble.

“It sticks with you,” he said.

“I just sometimes ask myself, ‘Why wasn’t it me?’ I’m usually one of the first guys in and this time I was like the third guy in,” Carnagie said. “My partner was with me and they went in before we did. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.”