After more than three decades of saving lives and protecting property, Lt. Brad Horton is retiring this month from the Oxford Fire Department.
“It’s time for me to move on and (embark) on a new adventure,” said the 55-year-old.
Horton, a 1981 Oxford High School graduate, has been a member of the department since 1985.
The only person who’s been there longer is Chief Pete Scholz, who started in 1976.
He will work his last day May 11. His last official day is May 18.
When asked why he originally became a paid-on-call firefighter, Horton replied, “It was kind of a family tradition.”
He had an uncle and brother-in-law who were Oxford firefighters and another uncle with the Waterford department.
“Hanging around them as a kid,” riding in the fire truck during parades and going on calls with them piqued his interest in helping others and sparked a sincere desire to serve his community.
In his early 20s, Horton decided he wanted to sign up. There was only one problem – the chief at the time, Dale Spiker, wouldn’t take him because he thought Horton was “too young.”
“He just didn’t want any young bucks creating trouble,” Horton said.
But Horton was “very persistent.”
“I just kept on him,” he recalled. “I was up there at the fire station every day . . . Finally, he said he’d give me a try, but he told me, ‘You screw up one time, you’re out.’ I’m still here today.”
He’s never regretted his decision to become a firefighter.
“The more I got into it, the more I started loving it,” said Horton, who was promoted to lieutenant in June 2005. “I’ve never looked at this like ‘Oh, it’s just a job.’ I’m there to help people as best I can.”
The idea of being there to “try to ease the pain, if possible” for someone who’s the victim of a car crash, house fire or medical emergency really appealed to him.
“A lot of times, the outcome is not the greatest,” Horton said. “I’ve seen a lot of death. I’ve seen a lot of homes destroyed.”
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
“I’ve helped deliver three babies in the field,” Horton noted. “That’s a neat thing to bring a new life into the world.”
Over the years, Horton also helped save three lives and each time he was honored for his efforts with a pin from the Oakland County Medical Control Authority. He proudly wears all three pins on his uniform every day.
One of those lifesaving incidents occurred in February 2012. Horton was one of two firefighters to don cold-water rescue suits to retrieve Larry Jansen, a 62-year-old Oxford man who had fallen through the ice while skating around Eden Lake located in the Waterstone development.
Another incident occurred in April 2014. Horton was part of a team of eight firefighters who worked hard to keep Tim Scribner, a 48-year-old Addison Township man, alive following a heart attack. They successfully transported him to the hospital where he had three stents put in his heart and made a full recovery.
Wearing those lifesaving pins every day is an “honor” for Horton. “Three people are walking around out there because I was part of helping them,” he said.
Horton will never forget the countless people over the years who have expressed their gratitude to Oxford firefighters for helping either them or their relatives in times of need. Whether it was a simple “thank you” or a gift card or a tray of cookies, “those things are memorable to me,” he said.
The best moment of his career came in April 2000 when he went from a paid-on-call member to a full-time employee.
Horton was working as a custodian at Daniel Axford Elementary when then-Fire Chief Jack LeRoy came to the school to in form him that he had the highest test score and offer him the position. LeRoy gave him two weeks to think it over, but Horton didn’t hesitate – he immediately took the job.
Horton noted back when he started with the department in the 1980s, he never imagined it would ever have any full-time firefighters, let alone the 17 it employs today, because Oxford was a lot smaller and quieter place.
“We thought we were busy back then with 200 or 300 calls a year,” he said. “Now, as we speak, we’re at 638 calls for the year. We’ll probably (handle) over 2,000 calls this year.”
Looking back at his career, Horton said one of his favorite parts of the job has been operating the various trucks. Whenever firefighters were inside a house or building battling a blaze, Horton said they could always count on him to be the “angel” outside, who has their backs and keeps the water flowing.
“The engine, the tanker, the tower – I can run any of them,” the lieutenant said. “I can run these trucks, basically, blindfolded. I can tell just by the sound of that truck how she’s running.”
Horton has enjoyed helping the community’s commercial establishments become safer places by working as the department’s fire inspector since the early 2000s.
“When I first started, the list of violations was huge,” he said. “Now, most of the time, you just don’t find violations because people are very conscious (of the fire code).”
One of the biggest joys and honors for Horton has been watching his son, Ben Horton, follow in his footsteps and work alongside him. Ben has been a paid-on-call firefighter for Oxford since 2006, the same year he graduated from OHS.
“All the time, he’s trying to outdo his old man and I commend him for that,” Horton said.
Horton just beams every time one of his co-workers compliments him on how “very polite” and “very knowledgeable” Ben is.
That makes Horton feel “very proud” as Ben’s dad, his co-worker and his lieutenant.
Reflecting on retirement, Horton has mixed feelings.
On the one hand, he’s “sad” about leaving “the family that I’ve had for 33 years.”
“So many people look up to me and rely on me,” Horton said. “When things break, they always call me.”
But on the other hand, he’s anxious to start a new chapter in his life while he’s still able to do so. “I have my health. I’m blessed to have a wife that backs me 100 percent,” Horton said.
So, what’s next?
“I’ve got a couple irons in the fire,” he said.
Right now, he’s considering continuing his work as a fire inspector, but as an independent contractor in communities that lack such a position.
“That’s the one I’m leaning towards just because my heart’s still there,” Horton said. “That would let me still do what I love, but on a part-time basis.”
Horton hopes others who “feel the urge” to be part of their community and help others will consider becoming a paid-on-call firefighter. Right now, he said there’s a “dire” need for more manpower at departments across the country.
“When people pick up the phone and call 9-1-1, they don’t think for a minute that (the department’s) going to be shorthanded today,” Horton said. “They expect 15 to 20 people to show up when their house is on fire.”