After a Flood, Serving a Hometown Hero

Michelle Barnett

When floodwaters rose in Gilberton, PA, the fire marshal got his family to safety then abandoned his own home to serve the community. Greyshirts got to return the favor.

When we arrived on our base at the Schuylkill County Fire School in Gilberton, PA, 10 days after rain from storms and runoff from nearby mine lands caused massive flooding in the town, Barry Brassington was still attempting to salvage belongings from his home. 

During Team Rubicon’s disaster assessment a few days earlier, we had learned that Brassington is a local first responder— he’s the Gilberton fire marshal– and command quickly determined we were in a position to assist him with muck-out and debris management. Little did we know at the time the extent of the exemplary service that Barry had demonstrated during this crisis.

Greyshirts muck flood damage from the Brassington home.

Our team of Team Rubicon volunteers—or Greyshirts—arrived at Brassington’s home in the early morning, 11 days after the flood, to start the process. As we started getting to know the locals who were also there to help, we began piecing together the story, from his recollection and other community helpers.

A little before 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 10, as the floodwaters began to rise Brassington, a widower and father of three, dropped his children at his mother’s house and safely secured his dogs on the second floor of his own home. Then, in an attempt to save his neighbors’ homes, he spent the next several days tending pumps the fire department had set up to clear water from the roadways. Brassington worked diligently, skipping sleep and meals, and, without hesitation, sacrificed the opportunity to save his own belongings in exchange for the chance to save his community. According to locals he only left, after several days on-site, when his own mother showed up and physically led him away to eat and rest.

Greyshirt Caroline Griffith hauls debris from the flooded Brassington home.

That was days before our team arrived. Now, with the waters receded, Greyshirts working alongside Brassington to remove items from his home learned that the flood was the third he had endured in Gilberton, and far from his only loss. Three years earlier after his triplets were born, one of the infants passed away. Shortly after that, his wife died from cancer. Now there he was, trying to save as many of his children’s beloved items as he could. The few things left hanging on the walls were pictures of Barry, his late wife, and their three children. Some of the items he had to discard were things he had not been able to look at or go through since his wife’s passing. This made his own sacrifice that much clearer to our team, as the first time revisiting these possessions was to throw them away due to water damage.

Brassington is a quiet, courteous, and humble individual who would most likely claim that he was simply doing his duty. We Greyshirts believe otherwise. We believe that the impact of his actions during this disaster should not be understated. Over the days of our working together, we were truly in awe of his perseverance and dedication to his community. It’s a true gift when a Greyshirt gets to serve a hero—yes, we believe he exhibited heroic service—in his time of need.

Watch: Fire Marshal Barry Brassington and Team Rubicon Greyshirts discuss the Gilberton flooding and response.

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