NEW TROY — A lot of things have changed at the Weesaw Fire-Rescue Department in the last half-century, but one thing stayed the same until the Oct. 16 Township Board meeting.
That was when Firefighter Dale Brueck retired after 54 years as a volunteer.
At the beginning of the meeting, Township Supervisor Gary Sommers thanked Brueck for his years of serving and also thanked Peggy Brueck, his wife of 38 years.
Weesaw Fire Chief Ted Nitz presented Brueck with a Distinguished Service Award for “outstanding dedicated service” as board members, fellow firefighters, community residents and friends cheered.
After Nitz quipped that he was only three-years-old when Brueck joined the Weesaw Fire Station, he presented Brueck with a warm blanket made by his wife Kelly Nitz with a firefighting theme to keep him warm at home now that he didn’t have to answer calls on cold winter nights.
Brueck also was recognized by the Weesaw American Legion Post 518 for “54 years of outstanding public service benefitting the community.” That plaque was presented to him by fellow New Troy classmate and former Chikaming Township Fire Chief David Lyle Mensinger.
Brueck joined the department when he was an 18-year-old New Troy High School student at the urging of a neighbor back in 1965. He says he has never regretted it.
“We were truly volunteers when I joined. I think we got 20 bucks a year or something,” Brueck recalled.
Firefighters now are paid per call on an hourly basis, although Brueck says it’s not much considering the amount of time involved. The way firefighters are called out also has changed since he joined before the cell and smart phones were even invented. Volunteers were summoned via regular landline home phones or a siren that could be heard outdoors.
“The calls would come when you always seemed to be doing something else. I remember going outside and yelling to him in the yard and then he’d be off. I never worried about him when he was out on a call. They are such a tight-knit group. They are always looking out for each other’s backs,” said Peggy Brueck.
When Brueck joined the Weesaw Fire Department, it had a pumper and a tanker truck, a jeep and one ambulance. Today, the department has two pumper trucks, two tankers, a rescue rig and a grass rig. Ambulance service is now provided in the township by Medic 1, but back then the volunteers also received extensive training to provide that service to the township.
Brueck noted that the approach to firefighting training has changed over the years to include more safety and tactical training and volunteers have been better equipped with newer and more safety turnout gear over the years. He says he thinks he spent “thousand of hours” training over his 54 years with the department.
Brueck has strong memories of the townships biggest fire that occurred back in September of 1975 that destroyed the Tailor Wax Processing plant located in the northern part of the village. The industrial casting plant was engulfed in flames when they arrived in the early evening and lasted until the next day. Since water would not put out the paraffin-based wax fire, foam from a nearby fire equipment firm and Cook Nuclear Plant were called in and Buchanan’s 65-foot aerial ladder truck was used to bring the fire under control by 11 p.m. The firefighters stood by all night to monitor the scene which included a brief flare up and some exploding propane gas tanks.
Brueck’s memories as a volunteer firefighter are not all about fighting fires and answering ambulance calls. He said he also loved playing Santa Claus at the annual Christmas party and helping with the Halloween Party.
It’s said there is one universal truth about volunteer fire departments: they are always looking for new recruits to join their ranks. Township Clerk Wanda Green said Weesaw Township is no exception to the need for firefighters to join.
Brueck gives good testimony to those thinking about it, saying he encourage people to become a volunteer firefighter “if you like helping people and getting a good feeling.”