Running Mates

Leo Brink was one of the toughest Firefighters I ever knew. He ran at Engine 34 in the 5th Battalion. It didn’t matter how dangerous a fire was, it was always Leo leading the charge to put it out. He was responsible for saving many lives. At a fire scene, if you were a pipe man, you would have to stand on the line when you put on your mask or Leo would steal your pipe and plunge into the fire ahead of you. I remember the first time this happened to me. I was riding Engine 22 that night. We pulled up to a two flat that was venting through the roof and was roaring with fire on the second floor. I stretched the inch and half to the front porch. I was in a kneeling position putting on my mask when I heard someone running towards me. The next thing I knew was my nozzle was snatched from the ground and a running Firefighter was taking my line through the front door of the blazing dwelling. When I caught up to him, I found it was Leo Brink. We were up to our ass in fire. It was so hot I could feel the skin on my neck and ears start to cook. I backed Leo as he waded through the fire whipping the hose in a circular motion. He knew I was not happy with our situation so he began yelling, "God will protect us."

Leo was right and we put the fire out. He was some cracker jack of a Firefighter and I know his faith in the Lord gave him strength. At times he tested the faith of those who followed him. I know he scared the hell out of me the night he stole my line.

Leo was a soft spoken tobacco chewing gentleman who was a friend to most of the people he knew. He could be depended on not only at fires but around the quarters with housework and reports. He had a special closeness with the people he ran with. One of the men who rode the back of Engine 34 with Leo was Harold Watkins who eventually became the Chief of the Detroit Fire Department.

Over the years things began to change as they sometimes do in our lives. Leo ran into some crushing personal problems. They were so overwhelming that Leo left the fire service and disappeared. We all wondered what happened to Leo. He dropped from sight and nobody knew how to get in touch with him.

One person could not forget Leo. He had been his friend and running mate at Engine 34. That person was Harold Watkins. Harold was, at that time, a Lieutenant and he decided to help his friend. After a long difficult search he discovered that Leo was working as a migrant worker in South Carolina. Leo had not taken his pension and was living in a terrible state of poverty. Harold found that Leo was also suffering from a serious heart condition. At his own expense Lieutenant Watkins flew down to South Carolina and, relying on their old friendship and trust, convinced Leo to come back home. Lieutenant Watkins cut through the red tape and got Leo his pension, a place to stay, and some much needed medical attention. He even arranged to bring back Leo’s closest friend an old hound dog named Matilda.

Reflecting on the brotherhood of the fire service, I believe this tale of the special bond among Firefighters is an example for others to follow. I now know that Leo was right when he shouted, "God will protect us."

Stay safe my brothers and sisters.

FF. Leo Brink
FF. Leo Brink

Chief Harold Watkins
Chief Harold Watkins

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"Fire Horses" book authored by firefighter R.J. Haig.


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