Former Pentwater Fire Chief Remembered For Service To Community, Public Safety
“They don’t make guys like Bill Brown anymore.”
This man dedicated himself to his community as fire fighter, fire chief, village council member and much more for decades, a legacy that many are remembering after his death.
Bill Brown once served as fire chief in Pentwater for three decades and that’s only scratching the surface.
He passed away on November 24, 2017.
He was 85-years-old.
He leaves behind a legacy that helped shape emergency services throughout Oceana County.
“His heart was in the fire department,” says Terry Cluchey, current fire chief at the Pentwater Fire Department.
Colleagues like Cluchey say Bill had a face that everyone knew, including Mason-Oceana County 911 director Ray Hasil.
“Bill was a major part of public safety not just in the fire department but he was also a member of the ambulance service and he was very, very connected within the community,” Hasil says.
From starting the village ambulance service and sitting on the village council to commanding the Pentwater VFW Hall, Bill, a veteran of the Navy, was always ready to help.
“Even into his 70s, he would still respond to the fires and he would get right on the pumps,” Hasil says. “He would run the pumps for the entire duration of the fire. Seeing somebody like that who was just, even into their older years, just so motivated to keep serving the public like that, it’s just really inspiring.”
Hasil says Brown and the board that sat alongside him changed the face of 911 services beyond the village.
“Back in the time, the concept of a shared 911 center was pretty unheard of. This was the concept that was decades ahead of its time,” Hasil says. “It goes all the way back to 1991 for us when the committee first started forming and, eventually, in 1995, we went live with a two county consolidated 911 center which he was on the board of directors, representing the Oceana County fire chiefs. He was part of the effort to obtain funding and build this great facility for us that went live back in 2003.”
Throughout all of his work, Hasil says Bill would always return to his old department with his wife, Doris, at his side.
“He and his wife would still come out to the Sweetheart Dinner that the fire department had every year and it was always great to see him still get out and hang out with some of the guys with the fire department,” Hasil says. “He was pretty serious. He’s all business on the fire scene but outside of the structure fire, just one of the nicest guys you would ever meet. Very, very kind. Always smiling, always laughing.”
“If I needed a question answered, I would call him up and he would put his two cents worth in,” Cluchey says. “Sometimes he might sound a little gruff, but his interest was just the fire department.”
Bill helped make the Mason-Oceana Central Dispatch Center go live in 1995 and was shovel-in-hand when they got a building of their own in 2003.
His name is immortalized there on a plaque at the building’s entrance, just like Cluchey’s album filled with decades of photos.
“To me, he was a good mentor and what he left behind, his legacy, I’m trying to keep that going,” Cluchey says.
His old crew says his face was one that, while remembered in black-and-white, brought color to a village in more ways than one.
“Bill was a good leader. He listened to everybody,” Cluchey says. “This is my last year of being chief so I’m just hoping the rest of them will continue on and remember Bill, how he ran the department.”
“It would be great if people can look up and aspire to have the kind of impact that he’s had on his community,” Hasil says. “If everybody contributed as much as Bill did, the whole world would be a better place.”
A celebration of Bill’s life with full military honors will be at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Pentwater VFW Hall.
All are welcome.