Firefighters in a Michigan community have rallied around their comrade Brad Wilson, a 25-year veteran of the Portage Fire Department who has been diagnosed with a case of malignant mesothelioma. Wilson had built a reputation of compassion and helpfulness in his more than two decades on the force, according to his fellow firefighters. “If someone had to switch days, had an emergency or if someone was down on their luck, Brad would be the first guy to offer to work a shift for them or organize some effort to help,” according to the president of the Portage Professional Firefighters Union, Rick Nason.
“After I came back from dealing with my dad’s passing, he insisted working two shifts for me — I mean he literally made me stay home.” Wilson also was known for his fundraising efforts on behalf of muscular dystrophy and underprivileged children. Other workers agree that the 55-year old Wilson was an unselfish and loyal comrade in the often dangerous world of firefighting. Unfortunately his bravery and valor were not enough to stave off the onset of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lining around the heart and lungs that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. Wilson was diagnosed with stage three mesothelioma last month, and has a prognosis of six to eighteen months of life. He is no longer able to work as a firefighter because of his symptoms.
Although Wilson is not able to work, he is still receiving disability benefits, because his fellow firefighters in the 29-member firefighting staff in Portage are working his scheduled shifts for him, taking turns. The city administration allowed the arrangement. Nason and fellow firefighter Jim Kelecava organized a fundraising spaghetti dinner for Wilson’s medical and other expenses, as well. Wilson, his wife Cinda, and his mother Mary Lubbert are heading to Houston to consult with specialists at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, for a week of evaluations and to discuss treatment options. Wilson may return to Houston later for an operation to remove one of his lungs. He will also discuss experimental treatments with the clinicians at the center. It is likely that Wilson was exposed to asbestos during his firefighting career, likely while spending time in the debris of a structural fire. However, he is not focused on the cause, saying that his fate was “part of the job”. Wilson’s comrades in Portage still take his helmet with them every time the engines roll out of Station 3, saying that “a part of Brad is still with us wherever we go — he’ll always be with us, no matter what.’