Branch retires after 22 years of service to New Richmond Fire and Rescue
A combination of factors led Paul Branch to make what was now an easy decision nearly 30 years ago.
Being the father of two young daughters at the time, Branch wanted to learn everything possible in case his daughters needed medical attention if there was none available.
Therefore, his interest piqued when he saw an advertisement the Roberts-Warren Fire and Rescue departments were looking for volunteers.
“I wanted to help my community as well,” he said.
For which he certainly did, first for Roberts-Warren and later with New Richmond Fire and Rescue, until last month when he retired.
“It felt good to know I was helping people,” he explained.
Branch started his volunteerism in Roberts in 1986, where he served for three years. By providing comfort and aid for those during their worst times, he called the years “very fulfilling” and “it made him a better person.”
He then moved to New Richmond in 1990, and joined both the fire department along with ambulance and rescue. He said joining New Richmond’s outfits was pretty easy, as he did training with ambulance members and more often than not worked together on some calls.
During this time, Branch was working for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in their office of Information Technology. He wanted a shorter commute so he moved to Eagan in 1991, but yet, became a member of the UofM’s Emergency Medical Response Team.
In 1995, Branch moved back to New Richmond and rejoined the New Richmond Area Ambulance and Rescue, along with New Richmond rire. Two years later, the fire department named him secretary and treasurer, titles he held until 2006.
Fire department records show since 1996, Branch attended 737 training events and 641 fire/rescue events and numerous fire prevention activities.
“Whatever they asked me to do, I did it without explanation,” he said.
Branch’s story wouldn’t be complete without his battle with Leukemia, for which he was diagnosed in December 2007.
He was struggling with fevers and fatigue in the weeks leading up to the diagnosis. Doctors originally thought Branch had Epstein-Barr virus, which causes infectious mononucleosis, but additional blood tests revealed the leukemia.
His older brother, Marty, was found to be a perfect match and agreed to be the bone marrow donor, which was in February 2008.
“It was touch-and-go for a while,” Paul explained.
“The treatment was very grueling.”
A benefit was held in March 2008 for Branch at Ready Randy’s in which 500 people showed up, which clearly touched Branch and family.
What also touched Branch and the family was the support and aid he got from his fellow firefighters as he was off for six months recovering at home from the transplant.
“I want to express my most sincere appreciation and gratitude for the assistance and support given to my family during Paul’s illness,” said wife Rezeda, during Paul’s retirement party. “...At that time, as Paul struggled with the disease, he remained to be one of you.”
Which isn’t a surprise, said New Richmond Fire Chief Jim VanderWyst.
“Brotherhood has nothing to do with the age of the members of a group,” he said during the retirement party. “It does have to do with a common goal, but it is much more than that. It is the spirit where you move heaven and earth for another member of the brotherhood. It is ‘You go, We go.’”
After six months of recovering and recuperating, Branch went back to work and it took him an additional six months to resume a 40-hour work week.
“I needed the motivation,” he said. “I wanted as much of my old life as possible. If I didn’t go back to work as much as possible, I think I’d die.” He remained at the University of Minnesota until 2013 when his position was eliminated due to budgetary cuts.
As for the fire department, Branch said his health issues limited his duties on what he could do, but he thanked them for “being very understanding”, which included being a fire inspector near the end of his tenure.
“My body was telling me it was time,” he said about the decision to retire from the fire department. “It was time to move on. There is a lot of younger people in the department and now is their chance to do something.”
As for what’s next for Branch, he said more time for his blacksmith, which he does at his home located between New Richmond and Star Prairie, and spending time with his family, including his three grandchildren.