Retiring Battalion Chief Brubaker Considers Firefighting ‘The Best Job In The World’

Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Chief Brian Mayo (L) presents retiring Battalion Chief Mike Brubaker (R) with an axe Friday during Brubaker’s retirement party at Station No. 2. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
By David Slone

WARSAW — At his retirement party Friday, Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Battalion Chief Mike Brubaker gave his fellow firefighters some advice.

“As everybody knows, we do a tough job that most of the people don’t know what happens. But you make a difference, for those of you that are still here. Don’t lose sight of that. Stay focused. Continue to serve. Know your place because you were called,” he said. “We’re a family, we always will be. It doesn’t matter whether Brooks and I are gone now and Ed, Mark, Danny, John. We spent time together. Heavens, my wife doesn’t even know half of what I’ve done and I don’t want her to.”

He told them to remember what they were called to do and to continue that.

“Don’t get caught up … don’t focus on the politics, it’s politics. Do the job you were called to do and never forget that, and you’ll never go wrong,” Brubaker advised them.

Some days were tough and some were fun, “but I did the best job in the world and thank you,” he concluded.

Brubaker became a first responder after witnessing a fire and feeling helpless.

“It started years ago. We (Mike and wife Christy) got married in ’90 and we lived in a little town called West Alexandria, Ohio. And I got home one night from work and there was a big fire at a mill just north of us. And when I got up there to see what was burning, a man had come out of the building and he had been burnt really bad. I didn’t know what to do to help him, didn’t know anything about emergency services,” he recalled in an interview. 

The fire and EMS took care of the burned man once they arrived. Brubaker didn’t like the feeling of not knowing what to do, so he ended up joining West Alexandria EMS and becoming an EMT. After moving back here, he got on the volunteer fire department at Pleasant Township in Wabash County. After 10 years there, he got hired at Warsaw in 2002 and never looked back. Brubaker started off as a firefighter, moved up to lieutenant, then captain and was appointed chief in 2012 by Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer. Brubaker served as chief for four years, returning to battalion chief after Mike Wilson took over as chief.

“As a lieutenant, you’re in charge of a group of guys. You get certain responsibilities at that lieutenant level, and then when you get to move to captain it may be a little different. It just helps you with time. You go on more calls, you see more. You build slide trays in your mind so you know how to deal with different situations. As those slide trays grow, you can look back and you can say, ‘I did good here, I did bad here.’ You take the bad out, you put the good in and then you get great as time goes on,” he said.

When Brubaker started with Warsaw in 2002, they responded to about 850 calls a year. Now they’re pushing over 3,000.

“The difference being, back then we didn’t run any medical, and so then we became EMTs – I already was but most of the guys become EMTs. We started running on some medical calls, and then pretty soon, as we all know the medical industry is overran … so we’re going on every medical call now,” he said.

Another change is that when they used to get calls it was for really serious matters. Now, he said, “Everyone calls 911 for everything, and so that in turn overwhelms that system. So to say that I’ve seen it change, I’ve seen it change from going from we were called for a serious injury to now we’re called for what we may term as minor stuff. But we still go serve that the same way we do the serious stuff because that’s what we’re called to do.”

   City Councilman and Mayor-elect Jeff Grose (L) shares a story with retiring Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Battalion Chief Mike Brubaker (C) Friday as George Clemens listens. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

Though Brubaker is retiring from the fire service, he’s not retiring from working. On his days off from the fire department, he worked at G & G Hauling & Excavating. Now that he’s not a full-time firefighter, he’s going to transition to a safety coordinator position for G & G and work there full-time. Brubaker knows he will miss his job as a firefighter.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I will miss it, but somebody once told me you’ll know when it’s time and I’m at peace with it. I will miss the job, but I’m ready to be home every night and every weekend to spend with my family,” he stated.
He and Christy have three children – Nick, Bridgette (and husband Tom) and Tasha.
Christy said she and Mike have been married 33 years as of July 1. She knew he liked being a firefighter so she was always OK with it.
“I had to get used to the schedule, but we made it work,” Christy said. “There’s been good times, fun times, bad times. It’s just kind of life. I always missed him at the holidays when he couldn’t be home, so it’ll be nice having him back for all of that.”
While Thallemer was unable to be at Brubaker’s retirement party, he did send a message that Fire Chief Brian Mayo read.

In the message, Thallemer wrote, “As mayor, it’s been quite an honor to work with former chief Mike Brubaker for the past 12 years of his 21 years of service to the city of Warsaw. … Mike served as fire chief for almost four years and from his leadership had a significant impact on the department. Mike was a boots-on-the-ground chief. He could prepare budgets and manage employees. His passion was commanding on the scene of a response. He was loyal but not afraid to ‘engage’ me with his opinions and stand up for the department.”

Thallemer said Brubaker was responsible for instituting the battalion chief position in the department’s shifts.

“Mike is a consummate family man and a friend to all who have known him. Throughout his career, he has been an exemplary leader, commanding the respect of his peers, utilizing practical, compassion, no-nonsense approach to his department,” Thallemer said.

Mayo then read his own statement on Brubaker, saying he and Brubaker met about 12 years ago at an event in St. Joe County. Brubaker had recently been promoted to fire chief when he showed up at the event, and Mayo and Brubaker didn’t know each other yet.

“I asked him how things were going … and he said, ‘I’ll let you know.’ And he just stared at me like that,” Mayo recalled. “Well, fast-forward to today. I know.”

Mayo said Brubaker survived as fire chief and battalion chief is the best rank of the job.
“As he steps into retirement, we celebrate not only his years of commitment, but also the profound impact he’s had on our organization and the countless lives he’s touched,” Mayo said.

He presented Brubaker with a fireman’s axe and plaque.
Taking over as battalion chief from Brubaker will be Shade Keeney, who said he has big shoes to fill.

“Chief Brubaker and Chief Huffer both have 60 years of service in this department nearly, and you’re not going to replace those guys,” Keeney said. Brook Huffer retired Wednesday from the department also as a battalion chief. “The best we can hope for is to pick up where they left off and continue to move the department” forward.Keeney said he’s known Brubaker for close to 20 years. Over the last 10-12 years they’ve worked different shifts and interacted quite often. “A top-notch guy. He teaches a lot of great things to all of our guys. I’ve been lucky to work with him the little bit that I have,” he said.

Lt. Brent Fifer has known Brubaker for four years and said he was a “good dude. Good solid dude.” As a firefighter, Fifer said Brubaker is a “dependable dude” and as a boss “he cares about everybody and makes sure everybody is taken care of.”

Brent’s father, Dan Fifer, said he’s known Brubaker ever since he joined the department. Dan, who retired in 2012 after putting in 32-35 years, was there when Brubaker was hired.
“I always called Mike my Lucky 7 because I ran through five mayors and seven fire chiefs, and I called Mike my Lucky 7,” Dan said.

He said Brubaker was another one of his “sons” and he “raised him like a son and he treated me like a dad.”

Dan said they had serious talks but also had a lot of fun. “As a fire chief, he was one of the fairest fire chiefs that I ever had,” he said. “My father was a fire chief and I served under him. Now that was a …. but as far as Mike goes, he’s one of the most level-minded men I’ve ever known. He also kept it under control.”

Brubaker never panicked, and was “one hell of a firefighter,” Dan said. Tony Shilling said he’s worked at the fire department for six years now and has known Brubaker for just as long.

“He would, as some say, be the best battalion chief that was here at the time. Everyone wanted to work for Mikey B. Just an overall good dude. Took care of his people,” he said.

“Big shoes to fill. Lot of people can’t do it. If you had to have a boss, he was the one everyone wanted as a boss.”

Drew Shilling also has known Brubaker since he started working at Warsaw.

“He was the chief when I got hired,” Drew said. “He’s probably the best boss I’ve had here. As the mayor said in his letter, he was definitely a firefighter’s chief. Spread a lot of wisdom to the younger guys. He was always there for them.”