Oakland Park Fire Captain, Dan Debrecht, Beats Fires and Beats Cancer

by Dr. Beth Cooper | content@livinginoaklandpark.com

Firefighters are trained to fight fires. When they encounter a fire, they have to set fear aside, summon all their courage to face it and beat it, without any hesitation. But burning buildings are not the only kinds of fires that firefighters face. Sometimes life presents them with fires, fires that require that same courage to beat.

Captain Dan Debrecht, a veteran of Oakland Park Fire Rescue, recently faced such a fire when in August of 2019 he was diagnosed with an unexpected and life changing brain cancer diagnosis, meningioma. His poignant story of recovery are awe inspiring and proof that firefighters have the courage to not only beat fires but to beat much more than that.

Dreaming about the Firefighter Career Since Early Stages

As a small child in Illinois, the kitschy and entrancing tv show Emergency captivated Debrecht and his 2 brothers. At age 7 he moved to South Florida and the dream of firefighting came with him. As the Debrecht brothers grew older they gravitated toward firefighting. Today all three are firefighters! 

Sudden Fire

Debrecht’s career in firefighting took off and he worked happily as a firefighter until one morning he woke up feeling unwell and everything changed. He ventured into the fire station feeling extremely sluggish and unable to recall current coworkers retirement status and general information easily. Debrecht reluctantly went to Holy Cross Hospital.  After a brain MRI, he was diagnosed with a baseball sized brain tumor, called a meningioma. This was a fire Debrecht had never faced, but which he was determined to beat.

After his diagnosis he was transported to Jackson Memorial/University of Miami, Debrecht for surgery. The surgery was slated to be a mere 4 hours but Debrecht endured a 12 ½ hour surgery which saved his life.

His craniotomy was performed and a temporal plate surgically implanted. After a few days recovery, but unable to walk independently, he returned home with orders to rest. By day 8, Debrecht, a baseball coach, wielded a bat as his cane and re-trained himself to walk.

The surgery left Debrecht with a scar from the middle of his forehead to his ear.

Putting Out the Embers

Debrecht training to go back to duty at Station 20.

The embers from the fire the surgeons put out continued to incapacitate him but Debrecht was not one to give up. He had beaten the big fires, and he was not about to let the embers get the best of him.

Debrecht practiced coordination and balance by pouring water from a bottle into a cup repeatedly. For head strengthening he tilted his head. He performed eye exercise involving closing his weak eye and reading street signs/numbers with that eye.

Amazingly, with no formal physical therapy, he regained full vision after 4 months.

The Biggest Miracle

Today, Debrecht steadfastly maintains a daily walking regimen, healthy meal  preparation, resistance training workouts and medical protocol studyies. He has had 5 followup brain scans since 2019, and his neurologist has coined him “his biggest miracle”.

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Career Path Since Illness and Recovery

By December 2019 Debrecht returned to his Oakland Park fire house on light duty. He was cleared for full duty February 2020 and retired fully in April 2020 (the retirement was planned before Debrecht’s brain tumor incident).

Currently he is a flight medic at Fort Lauderdale Executive airport. He is an avid gym enthusiast, and credits his remarkable recovery and restoration of function post brain surgery to his diligent health habits and to the love and support of his wife and 2 children.
Debrecht also expressed boundless appreciation to his coworkers and fellow firemen at Oakland Park Station 20 for their constant support.

First day back on Engine 20: Working an accident on I95.
Retirement day with his family.

The Odds Defied

Debrecht asserts that his strong will, faith, dedication to God, and conviction have been his greatest formula for wellness post brain tumor.

He was recently awarded Oakland Park Fire Chief’s award in May 2021 for his miraculous ability to beat the cancerous fire that almost killed him. Today Debrecht mentors other firefighters who have developed brain tumors. 

Without a doubt, Debrecht’s story is an inspiring story of how one very courageous firefighter defied the odds and beat what could have been the most devastating fire of all, cancer. 

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*LivingInOaklandPark.com is an independent publication, not affiliated with the City of Oakland Park.

About the Author

Beth Cooper

Beth Cooper

Beth Cooper is a Philadelphia Pennsylvania native. She has lived and practiced in Oakland Park for 21 years. Her practice, called Sunshine Chiropractic Center, focuses on family, pediatric, pregnant women, back pain, and auto accidents.

Fitness, running and yoga are her passions. Beth loves spending time with her 11 year old daughter and husband Rob of 20 years when not working.

She loves to support and utilize local mom and pop, entrepreneurial businesses whenever possible. She volunteers for Poverello Live Well Center weekly as the agency’s chiropractor and has done so for over 10 years.

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