WAVELAND, MS (WLOX) - If he smells smoke, he’s gone. That’s the family joke when it comes to Brandon LaFontaine.
His mother says he even left a Thanksgiving dinner one year to go chase a fire in Waveland when he was off duty.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Brandon is that he is family man. He loves his wife Emily and their boisterous three year old, Cane. They know more than anyone that he was destined to be a first responder.
“When somebody’s having a bad day, we’re called to make that day better and try to help the situation," Brandon described. “Save a house, save a life; whatever we have to do."
It’s what Brandon LaFontaine does best. “This started off as a dream and a goal. And now, I’m living the dream and I love what I do.” He’s been a firefighter with the Waveland Fire Department for five years, but his fire chief remembers when he volunteered long before that.
“Brandon has a heart as big as this station,” says Waveland Chief Tony Mallini. “He does exceptional work. You know you gotta keep him on reigns every now and then; he’s like my bull in a china shop, but if you need it done, ask him and he’ll go do it.” “Just because I’m off, doesn’t mean I’m off,” explains Brandon. “If it’s happening, I’m going to be there.”
In his short time with the fire department, Brandon has been recognized twice for his efforts.
Last year, he was honored as First Responder of the Year for his work in the community and teaching fire prevention. This year, it was his work delivering a baby that earned him the prestigious award. "To me it’s just plastic or glass, or whatever it’s made out of,” he says casually. “I do my job. It’s what I’m here to do; it’s what I signed up for.”
Like many children, Brandon grew up fantasizing about becoming a firefighter one day. That dream almost didn’t come true.
When he was just seven years old, Brandon was electrocuted. He and his younger brother were playing outside when it happened.
"I remember cutting a cord,” Brandon recalls from that hot July day so many years ago. “I remember cutting it, hearing it pop and the buzzing sound that you hear when there's electricity." Brandon had accidentally cut an extension cord. He was still being shocked when his mother found him.
Wendy LaFontaine says it’s something she will never forget. “When I got to him, he was gray and his lips were purple. He had, like foam coming out of his mouth.” Frantic, she immediately dialed 911, while Brandon’s uncle and grandmother performed CPR. Firefighters were there within minutes.
Rusty Shoultz was one of them; he was part of the team that rushed to save Brandon’s life. Shoultz recalls, "He did not have a pulse and required us to make pretty aggressive life-saving interventions.” Brandon’s father Rodney Lafontaine says he can’t forget the image of his lifeless son when he ran outside and saw him lying on the ground. "It looked like I could just go and dive into his eyes. There was no life.
After blacking out, Brandon says he felt like he was floating. He says he remembers looking down on the ambulance and everyone working on him. “It was white. It was real, real comforting. And I could hear something, I could hear a voice. And this is one part of the story I really don’t talk about, you know, and I probably should share it more.”
Brandon remembers someone telling him they weren’t ready for him.
“I remember something along the lines of, ‘You’ve got to go back.’ And I remember falling. I remember falling and waking up inside the ambulance.” Rusty Shoultz was by his side at that moment.
“I remember him opening his eyes in the ambulance, because at that point we were holding him down. I was talking to him, just holding him down, saying, ‘Hey man, we got ya.’” Brandon got something many of us will never know – a second chance. And now he’s using it, to do exactly what those first responders did for him. “I live for the job,” he says. “I live for protecting the citizens making sure everything is ok. Ever since that day, it’s something I’ve wanted to do and I want to strive to be the best.”
When Brandon received his award last month for First Responder of the Year, Rusty Shoultz was again by his side. Only this time, he too, was being honored alongside the young boy he saved more than 20 years ago.