Firefighter hospitalized for weeks after major wildfire in Lakewood
The Forest Fire Service firefighter who collapsed while battling the Lakewood wildfire weeks ago regained consciousnesses on Wednesday and is making progress, according to his family.
The wind-whipped fire along the Garden State Parkway burned 167 acres on March 14. Dozens of homes were put at risk on both sides of the highway. Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said a preliminary investigation determined the fire was intentionally set but no arrests have been made.
The firefighter was identified by his son to New Jersey 101.5 as Brian Sauers who is in his early 60s, a volunteer member of the East Dover Fire Company and a municipal engineer for Lakewood. He was working the fire in back of the Lowe's store on the Brick/Lakewood border when he collapsed, his said.
"He is awake, he is no longer intubated, he is talking. We're just getting into the real testing phase to try and really find out what happened " Sauers Jr. said.
Sauers Jr. said the family doesn't have a clear answer as to just what caused his father's collapse but so far his tests look good with no sign of a heart attack. It's been difficult for the family to watch their "rock" be unconscious for 17 days.
"Dad's always been there," he said. "It's a surreal feeling going to see him like that."
He said the family is especially grateful to a certified nurse and a Brick police officer who was there when Sauers Sr. went down. So far, the family has not been able to learn their names.
"This lady out of nowhere stopped and helped the cop and the guy who was with my dad when he went down. Don't know where she came from, don't know how she got there. It was a nurse from Ocean Medical Center that just did something and got oxygen to him in a lot quicker way then what you can do than put a mask on your face. Don't know what she did, don't really care, because she helped him and that's pretty much all I care about," Sauers Jr. said.
He said his father used the pandemic to improve his health and started walking 2 miles and riding an exercise bike daily.
"I know it's because of his grand kids. The guy stopped smoking 20 years ago, doesn't drink, doesn't really do anything that you would think that would cause something like this. We don't know what happened," he said.
Firefighting runs in the family as his sons and daughter were all firefighters. His son Justin is a member of the East Dover Fire Co.
The family is appreciative of the support from the first responder community and has also heard from the homeowners' association at Brick Lake Park where 50 homes were temporarily evacuated during the fire.
"People talk s**t about Jersey all the time but at the end of the day when a family from Jersey goes down you get reached out from people. It's a Jersey thing," Sauers Jr. said.
The Forest Fire Service and DEP are also pulling for Sauers, according to Greg McLaughlin, New Jersey state firewarden and chief of the Forest Fire Service.
"We are in regular contact with Mr. Sauers' family to monitor his progress and will continue to reach out during his convalescence to assess any needs Mr. Sauers or his family may have," McLaughlin said. "We are grateful for Mr. Sauers' service, which helped protect lives and property on March 14, and look forward to him being restored to full health."