Firefighting runs in Brian Marek’s blood.
His father was a firefighter—he was the assistant fire chief in Scottville, Michigan before he passed away 13 years ago—and his uncle continues to serve as a firefighter; Marek grew up knowing what it was to have family members drop everything to battle infernos.
“When I was 16 years old, I was in bed one night, and my dad was going out to a fire,” Marek said. “He said, ‘Hey do you want to go with me?’ From that point on, I was pretty much hooked.”
When he turned 18 years old in 1993, Marek joined the Ludington Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter, and, when he was 23 years old, he landed a job as a firefighter at the Muskegon Fire Department. He spent 21 years in Muskegon before retiring in December 2019, starting out as a firefighter and going on to serve as both a firefighter and an emergency vehicle technician (EVT)—a mechanic who maintains and repairs the department’s six fire trucks.
Both are jobs Marek is deeply passionate about, and his work as an EVT has vaulted the former firefighter to national acclaim: Marek just received the “Emergency Vehicle Technician of the Year Award” from Spartan Emergency Response, “Firehouse” magazine, and the Fire Department Safety Officers Association. He was honored at a Fire Department Safety Officers Association conference on Monday, Jan. 13 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“When I found out, it truly was a shock,” Marek said of learning about the award. “It was a big deal.”
It’s a big deal to Marek on a personal level, of course, but he emphasized it is more than that: the award now gives him a platform to advocate for the field of Emergency Vehicle Technicians throughout Michigan and fight for mechanics to be certified as EVTs, something they currently aren’t mandated to do. That certification, Marek explained, translates to more knowledgeable mechanics working on emergency vehicles to ensure they’re able to safely and quickly reach fires and other emergencies.
“An emergency vehicle running every day is more important than our cars running every day—there’s a lot more responsibility and a lot more preventative work that goes into making sure the trucks run,” Marek said. “If a fire truck doesn’t start and there’s a fire, there’s no one to give you a ride. It needs to run. Without them, firefighters can’t do their job.”
“The wear and tear and abuse that emergency vehicles have to go through is a lot more than normal cars,” he continued. “They’re going 50 miles per hour out the door. With the city of Muskegon, we’re a very busy department, and there were days I’d have two or three trucks that needed to be fixed. A lot of our trucks are older trucks, and it takes a lot to keep them running.”
It’s not just in Muskegon that Marek has advocated for EVTs—for the past few years, he has worked to spread awareness surrounding the importance of EVT certification across the state of Michigan. And, alongside a partner from the Detroit Fire Department, Marek is launching the Michigan Association of EVTs, the first association of its kind in the state.
“We’re trying to promote that everyone who works on a fire truck or ambulance has to be an emergency vehicle technician,” Marek said.
“I still don’t feel like I deserved this award, but it’s been a good thing because it’s helped gain traction for this EVT association,” he continued.
Todd Fierro, the president of Spartan Emergency Response, a company that manufactures emergency vehicles, lauded Marek’s advocacy work surrounding EVTs.
“Brian Marek has demonstrated leadership throughout his 21-year career, forming Michigan’s first EVT association, and committing his spare time to mentoring and sharing his expertise with others throughout the industry,” Fierro said. “Spartan is honored to present him with this award and recognition.”
Marek emphasized his gratitude for the award, but noted it’s also bittersweet: he received it just as he was saying goodbye to a department that felt like family to him. One of a group of individuals who retired from the Muskegon Fire Department in December after a contract between the Muskegon firefighters union and the city incentivized early retirement for some firefighters, Marek is now working for Rosenbauer, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fire-service vehicles and firefighting equipment.
“We lived together; they were basically my second family,” Marek said of his colleagues at the Muskegon Fire Department.
Over the course of two decades, Marek witnessed significant change in the city—and at the fire department.
“I have a lot of great memories through the years in Muskegon,” he said. “I went from being at the old station right by City Hall to seeing the new station being built. When I got hired, the Sears was still open downtown; the mall was open downtown. The city went through a ton of changes while I was there. It got bad for a while, and then it got better. The city itself transformed a lot.”