DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. — Mark Colley never set out to be a hero, he just wanted to give back to his community and feel the camaraderie he felt when he served in uniform, but the events of June 25, 2020 changed that.
Just before 6:00 a.m., a fire had started in the apartment of a mother and her two children in the Village of New Haven, Michigan. A Macomb County Sheriff’s Deputy on patrol in the area noticed the smoke and went to investigate. He was informed that the occupants were trapped in the apartment.
While questioning individuals outside the apartment another deputy arrived and the two attempted to put the flames out with extinguishers to reach the family, but the smoke was too thick. A short time later, fire departments and Emergency Medical Services began to arrive on scene.
Colley, U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command’s Integrated Logistics Support Center’s Director Combat Support and Combat Service Support, Readiness, and Sustainment, was one of the volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians with the New Haven Volunteer Fire Department responding to the call.
That morning, Mark got up at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for work at the Detroit Arsenal when he received a call from the fire department that an apartment was on fire and a family was trapped inside. He immediately sent a text to his boss at the ILSC to let them know he might be late and he was responding to the emergency.
“You never know who will be available to show up for an emergency…sometimes you may need everybody,” Mark said.
Initially, Mark only knew that there were three people stuck inside the home, it was not until they were on the way to the scene that he found out that two of those trapped were children.
“When we started pulling out of the station we heard about the mother and two kids,” Mark said. “When you hear kids, your heart starts racing, and the peddle is pushed a little bit further into the floorboard.”
Being a father himself, Mark remained calm and remembered his training, but there was a deeper sense of urgency to reach the victims.
“There’s just something that comes over you, you want everybody to have a full life,” he said.
This emergency call brought Mark face-to-face with the first infant victim in his firefighting career. While Mark worked diligently, the baby’s heartbeat never stopped or waned, but she would occasionally stop breathing.
“I remembered saying to myself ‘this baby is not dying today, not while I’m here’,” he said.
The breathing stopped three times, and each time Mark was able to get her breathing again, and transported to the ambulance.
From start to finish, the extraction took six minutes from the time the team arrived.
“Everything was going in slow motion, so it seemed a lot longer than that,” Mark said. “It felt like six hours.”
After working the emergency, providing medical care, and helping transport an injured police officer to the hospital, Mark was still able to make a 10:00 meeting at TACOM.
Mark joined the ILSC after he retired from the Army in 2005, and enjoys his role.
“I like knowing when we take an action, buy a part, or determine a supportability strategy we’re actually providing products and service to the warfighter,” he said. “It’s very satisfying, it makes you proud of what you’re doing.”
However, he always felt like there was something lacking.
“As time progressed after retiring from the military, I began to miss that type of camaraderie and teamwork of working as part of a team in that type of environment.”
His neighbor just happened to be the Fire Chief for the local New Haven Volunteer Fire Department. After discussing all of Mark’s 21 years of military experience and training, the Chief said he felt that Mark had more experience than most of his fire fighters. After finding out that the department was short-staffed, Mark made the decision to sign up and learned to serve the community in another way. First, Mark had to get special dispensation to join the team from the ILSC Executive Director, which he received.
“I started volunteering, started training and getting certifications,” Mark said. “I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this type of team again and being part of the camaraderie and closeness.”
There are a lot of similarities in the two professions he practices when it comes to providing support for his community and his support to the Soldier, but one gives him that similar feeling like he had when he wore the Army uniform.
“There is that brother-in-arms aspect that you get when you work for the fire department,” he said. “It’s a more intense camaraderie when you have that direct impact while saving lives.”
Although not all volunteer opportunities will be the same, all deal with a level of service that have different impacts within a community.
“If you really want the satisfaction to know you are making a difference in your community…volunteer,” Mark said. “That positive feeling you get from that impact will carry you through a lot of bad times.”