Hundreds of teenagers were celebrating the start of homecoming weekend and their high school football team’s dominant win just hours earlier around a bonfire on Friday night near Pulaski, Wis.
Brandon Brzeczkowski, 18, was chatting with his friend Sam about eight feet away from the fire when he noticed a large fuel drum being thrown into the flames. Brandon was concerned and asked Sam if it was going to blow up.
According to the Shawano County Sheriff’s Office, the diesel fuel-filled drum exploded during a party attended by 30 to 40 Pulaski High students and recent graduates. At least 17 people were taken to hospitals in and around Green Bay. Medical staff sent some of the patients with more serious injuries, including Brandon, to a Milwaukee hospital with a burn unit.
The explosion shook the town of nearly 3,900 people, which is located 15 miles northwest of Green Bay. People have come together, donating tens of thousands of dollars to more than a half-dozen fundraisers to help victims with their medical bills. Many residents have changed their Facebook profile pictures to a plea to “Pray for Pulaski.”
According to Shawano County Sheriff’s Lt. Chris Madle, investigators do not believe whoever set fire to the drum of diesel fuel intended to harm anyone, but they could still face charges of reckless endangerment or mishandling of burning materials. Investigators are still attempting to determine what occurred.
School officials in Pulaski said they are assisting students and their families and thanked the community for its help.
Brandon Brzeczkowski ate dinner with his mother before the bonfire, around 6 p.m. on Friday, and made sure she was okay because she’d recently broken her leg in two places.
He checked in with her after arriving at the party, where people were celebrating the Red Raiders’ 62-14 homecoming victory over the Green Bay Preble Hornets. He texted her several times, asking how she was doing. Did she require assistance? Had she gone to bed?
She assured him that she was fine.
Tammy Brzeczkowski, 52, then went an hour and a half without hearing from her son, who graduated from Pulaski High in May.
Instead, at 11:08 p.m., she received a call from Sam, who informed her of the explosion. Tammy, who has since seen footage of the aftermath, likened the ensuing chaos to a war zone. Teenagers stripped off their flaming clothes. Some attempted to cool the flames that were engulfing their friends. Others bolted. Everyone yelled.
Instead of waiting for ambulances, uninjured partygoers jumped into action, transporting those who were severely burned to hospitals, according to Tammy. Brandon was flown to a burn center in Milwaukee by medical personnel.
Brandon had second- and third-degree burns on 38 percent of his body, according to Tammy. He is still on a feeding tube. Doctors put him on a breathing tube because they were afraid his throat would swell shut. Despite the fact that it remains in place, he is now breathing on his own. Despite being heavily sedated, he is able to communicate with family on occasion. On Monday, he wrote his first words since being burned with a whiteboard marker.
That won’t happen for at least four to six weeks, according to his mother. Brandon is set to have his first surgery on Wednesday to receive skin grafts on his face and hands. He’ll have to return for outpatient treatment several times after being released from the hospital. Returning to anything resembling normalcy will necessitate extensive physical therapy.
That will take time and effort, she said, possibly one or two years until he is completely healed.
Tammy and her husband, Bruce, have gone back and forth between forgiveness and anger in the days since the explosion. They understand that those who set fire to the drum were not malicious and were most likely only trying to scare people.
The Brzeczkowskis try to focus on how the Pulaski community has rallied around them and the families of the other burn victims. People who have offered assistance have astounded them. Tammy stated that she has been inundated with phone calls and texts. People have come to their house, marketing business, and hospital with food, food, and more food.