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Remembering Lt. Bruce Britt: Anniversary of firefighter’s passing

It was a year ago Sunday when we lost Columbia Firefighter Lt. Bruce Britt. On this anniversary of his untimely death, he is no doubt being remembered as a hero.

But his family, friends and brothers and sisters at the Columbia Fire Department are marking 365 days, not missing a fallen hero, but remembering a husband, father, mentor and friend.

Bruce Britt’s wife, Leigh, introduced ABC 17’s Joey Parker to those who knew him best.

One of the very powerful moments during his memorial service was when emergency radio channels were cleared and the last alarm was sounded. A voice came over the radio saying, “We will now transmit the last alarm for our brother Lt. Bruce Britt. His friendship, compassion and service to this community will be missed.”

Weston Enoch is a fellow firefighter who worked with Lt. Britt and was also a close friend.

“There’s not a day or an hour that goes by that you don’t think about Bruce, that I don’t think about Bruce,” Enoch said. “It’s hard to comprehend that he’s not here and that he’s gone.”

His words seem to reflect those who knew and worked closely with Bruce Britt.

At Columbia Fire Station 4, where Lt. Britt once called home, there is a sapling planted in his memory.

Lt. Justin Collins explains how it came to be, saying “We had our crew and then the crew that was with Bruce the morning that the…that the accident happened. We all planted it together.”

Collins also points out a fallen firefighter sticker on the window of the fire trucks memorializing two firefighters who were killed in the line of duty.

“So the sticker on the side, right there in the window,” Collins explains. “It also has the name of the other firefighter who died in the line of duty. You know, it gives us some…something to remember Bruce by. There’s a plaque downtown that has his name and stuff on it, on the front of the building, along with Hector Crumb, you know, just reminding of the sacrifice they both made.”

When we imagine a fallen firefighter, we think of a tragedy involving a hero fighting through a raging inferno, not dying in an unexpected balcony collapse on a sunny Saturday morning.

“As a company officer, it makes you think differently about the things you approach,” Lt Collins said. “But you can’t go into the stuff we go into and second guess yourself. Bruce wouldn’t do that and he wouldn’t want any of us to do it either on his account. So, in the back of your mind there’s some things that, you know, we think about, especially when we approach a walkway or something like that happened to him. But ultimately, we have to trust our instincts and do the job we’re here to do.”

Lt. Collins also said Lt. Britt was following proper procedures when the deadly balcony collapse happened.

“None of the officers in our department or probably any department would have done anything different than Bruce did that morning,” he said. “So our training is really good anyway, but we’ve just tried to think about things a little more before we enter into an unknown situation and just like I said earlier, it’s probably in the back of everyone’s mind a little bit more so your general awareness of things are higher. Ultimately, that probably helps us.”

Another person who said Lt. Bruce Britt helped is Paden Boulden, who was just a young child when Bruce Britt became his second father.

“At the time, it was confusing because my dad was getting remarried,” Paden said. “My mom got remarried. Like any 10-year-old, you’re kind of confused but Bruce and I always got along good, but he was a…he took care of me. At that time, it’s kind of what I needed. He was as much of a dad to me as anybody. I mean, I’m not taking anything away from my dad, but he accepted me for who I was and took me in and did a lot of things for me. Bruce was a large part of my life.”

He also vividly remembers when he first learned of the tragedy.

“Honestly, I thought it was a joke,”he said. “A buddy of mine called me and he said ‘Bruce has died,’ and it didn’t set in at all. And I was just sitting at the counter that morning and he said, ‘Paden this is for real.’ He said, ‘Bruce passed away this morning,’ and I didn’t know what else to do. So I started calling everybody that was a part of our life. And I wanted everybody to hear that he had passed that I thought needed to know.

And I took it upon myself to tell everybody that he had passed. So, it was very tough for me that day, and has been ever since. You know, it’s getting close (the anniversary) to when he passed away doing what he loved: protecting everybody.”

“I got married, and last year and got a little boy,” Paden said. “Rial was born in April, and Bruce died in February. You know, I just wish Bruce would’ve got to meet him. That’s the one thing I wish Bruce would’ve got to see, Rial, because you never seen anybody so excited when I told him he was going to be a grandpa. So, he knew it was a boy and knew when it was due, but he never did get to see him. Rial’s definitely got somebody looking after him now.”

Click here to see extended interviews with Britt’s family and friends.

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