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Pet doctor morphs into roadside firefighter

STEVE THOMPSON
Published October 4, 2003

MASARYKTOWN - Dr. Michael Brannan was on one of his first house calls of the day when he saw the smoke. Brannan, a veterinarian, was at a home on a dirt road by U.S. 41 just south of the Pasco-Hernando county line. He was there to care for Joy, a red dachshund with kidney trouble.

But he saw smoke coming from under the hood of a white Chrysler Sebring that was pulling to the side of 41. Brannan, 39, thought it might have been steam until he saw the flames under its hood. It was just after 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

"He saw me before I saw what was happening to my car," said Ross Prio Jr., the Sebring's 72-year-old driver. Prio had noticed cars in the opposite lane flashing their lights at him.

Brannan grabbed a fire extinguisher from his mobile veterinary clinic and ran to help. As he ran, he recalled Friday, he wished he had a bigger fire extinguisher. Meanwhile, his assistant called 911.

"Pop your hood quick," Brannan told Prio. "Your car is on fire."

The fire, which might have initially been electrical, had quickly become a gas and fluid fire, according to a Pasco Sheriff's Office report.

"He screamed at me to dive away from the car," Prio said. "Yet he took the chance to go up to it."

When Brannan opened the hood, flames shot up at him and a fireball engulfed his hands. He dropped the hood momentarily and backed away, but he didn't give up. In a second, he was back at the car pulling the hood open and spraying under it with his fire extinguisher.

"I guess I got a couple lucky shots in there and got it knocked down pretty good," he said. "I'm just glad it worked."

When a fire engine pulled up a short while later, Brannan already had the fire out.

"He's a sweet man and he's a brave man to do what he did," Prio said, "because cars blow up."

Brannan definitely saved his car, Prio said, and may have saved his life.

"I'd have probably been dumb enough to try and go in the car and get my stuff out," Prio said. "I'm sitting here in a little bit of shock thinking of what could have happened and didn't happen because of that man."

Prio, a real estate broker from Tampa, offered Brannan money to replace his fire extinguisher, but Brannan wouldn't accept it.

A sheriff's deputy later "commended Brannan for his heroic efforts," according to the Sheriff's Office report.

"If something happens to me, I'd hope somebody would do the same thing," Brannan said.

The doctor wasn't hurt during his stint as firefighter, although his hands were black with soot. He went back to caring for Joy, who needed fluid for her ailing kidneys. After all, Brannan still had rounds to make.

"We finished our job and packed everything up and moved along."

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