Crete firefighter badly burned in fire talks about his road to recovery

Despite all he’s been through, Brad Elder was in good spirits when 10/11 NOW spoke with him over the weekend.
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 10:43 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2022 at 8:42 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Last week, two Crete volunteer firefighters were burned while trying to help contain the wildfires in Lancaster County. One of them was treated and back home within a day, but the other has a lot of time left in the hospital because of third-degree burns.

Despite all he’s been through, Brad Elder was in good spirits when he exclusively spoke with 10/11 NOW over the weekend.

Monday, he had his first surgery of several to recover from severe burns to his left hand, legs, and back. He got those burns during the Oct. 23rd wildfires. It was an event that sent Elder and fellow volunteer firefighters scrambling to contain the blaze.

Elder and the other Crete firefighter who was injured were helping put out smaller fires in the Hallam area when they came across a home in the line of a growing fire. While trying to do a controlled burn to save the home, the wildfire suddenly shifted.

“So I turn around, just start running. That was my first indication that it had changed direction,” Elder said. “I’d looked down - I’d actually pulled my glove off, about half a second before I got hit, to open up the valve on the drip torch and just got hit in the face.”

Elder tried to escape the flames but tripped over the torch he’d been using.

“Then I was just crawling through the fire,” Elder said.

Once he made his way through the flames, the two men jumped in their truck, drove away, and called for help. A Lancaster County Sheriff’s deputy took them to an ambulance and they were rushed to CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln.

“My hands got third degrees,” Elder said. “And essentially the top of my boot up to my belt line on the back is third degree.”

Elder has at least a few more surgeries ahead of him and likely about 90 days in the hospital, but his attitude is one of gratitude.

“It’s not as bad as it could be,” Elder said. “It could have been a lot worse. If all it takes is 90 days and a little bit of pain to walk away alive, I’ll take it.”

It may be a year before he fully recovers. Despite the challenges ahead, he hopes to use his story as a teaching tool. Elder runs the prescribed burn program at Doane University.

“My plan is to address this as a learning opportunity,” Elder said. “We’re gonna sit down, we’re gonna do a lessons learned series on this to look at what happened, how it happened, and then how to prevent things like this in the future.”

Elder said he doesn’t plan to hang up his gear either.

“I’m not going to stop firefighting,” Elder said.

As a way to honor all of the firefighters and volunteers who helped out, the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners is issuing a proclamation of gratitude Tuesday morning.

Crete volunteer firefighter Brad Elder spoke with 10/11 Now about his road to recovery
Crete volunteer firefighter Brad Elder spoke with 10/11 Now about his road to recovery(Samantha Bernt)