Injured Crete firefighter says community support is ‘staggering’ through his recovery

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Despite being seriously injured while fighting wildfires, Brad Elder shies away from the word “hero.”

Elder is a volunteer firefighter in Crete as well as a professor at Doane University.

He was called to help fight the raging wildfires that swept through parts of southern Nebraska on Oct. 23.

The windy conditions made the fire spread quickly. By the time Elder noticed the flames whipping toward him as he tried to save a house, it was too late.

He said his partner watched the whole thing.

“He goes, ‘Then you just disappeared into a 25-foot wall of fire,'” Elder said.

Elder had a very short amount of time to act.

“Probably somewhere about 6 to 7, 8 seconds of getting out of that fire alive,” he said.

Luckily, his partner rushed to spray the area so Elder could escape.

Elder said that in the moment, all he could think about was what his next step would be to stay alive.

“Your mind thinks about all these weird things. Your life flashes in front of you, all of this stuff,” Elder said. “This time it was just, ‘Hey dude, you’ve got to get out of this fire.'”

He said it was a high-stakes situation.

“Yeah, I didn’t really relax until I got to Medic 6, and you’re like, ‘They got me and we’ll do it,'” Elder said. “So that was a weird changeover. You could give up and you could say, ‘They’ve got me’, and you could relax.”

After Elder was safely evacuated, the medics discovered he had severe burns on around 25% of his body, including his legs, back and hand.

He has been at CHI St. Elizabeth’s burn unit and Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital for treatment for over 40 days.

Elder has stayed optimistic through the process, but he said it’s taken a toll both physically and emotionally.

“Part of it has having that positive mindset and trying to keep focused on your goal, but there’s ups and downs,” he said. “There have been days sitting here thinking, ‘I can’t do this, this is too long, this is too hard,’ and then refocus and keep moving.”

What’s kept him motivated the most is the community’s outreach.

“That’s the part that I can’t wrap my head around. This is the part that makes me cry all of the time because it’s just so warming,” Elder said. “You know, Crete, it’s an amazing community. It’s had a lot of outreach. Doane University has been amazing, the fire community has been amazing.”

Elder said he was particularly touched when an elementary class brought him cards to wish him well in recovery.

“I just sit and read through the cards and cry through them all. I’m like, ‘Come on man, pull it together!’. I just keep crying through them,” he said. “It’s been amazing, what the community has done.”

Elder is scheduled for surgery on Monday to place skin grafts over some of his damaged skin. His total recovery time is still unknown, but he hopes to move home in the first couple of months of the new year.

Elder said he’s most looking forward to spending time with his wife outside of the hospital and getting back to his work at Doane.

As for his duties in the fire department? He says he loves it so much that he’ll continue to stay involved however he can.

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