FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The community is mourning the loss of a Fort Wayne firefighter. Among many things, including a Fort Wayne Fire Captain, Eric Balliet was a burn camp counselor. Burn survivors across the region are mourning this loss, proving Balliet’s impact reached beyond the city of Fort Wayne.
They said at burn camp everyone is family. For 18 years Captain Eric Balliet was a counselor at Great Lakes Burn Camp in Jackson, Michigan. Former campers said it was a place where they could feel normal, and Balliet was a big part of that.
When Brandy Haines was five years old she received third degree burns on her chest.
“I spent my sixth birthday at the hospital,” Haines said. “I was one of the original campers. When the camp opened in 1995 I was one of the very first campers.”
It was at Great Lakes Burn Camp where Haines met Balliet. First she met him when she was a camper. Then, as a fellow counselor.
“I’m glad I came back this summer because I finally got to see him before he passed,” Haines said.
Balliet suffered cardiac arrest during a training exercise Wednesday night, and died. Camp Director Mike Longenecker got the call that night.
“He was probably the funniest guy we had a camp,” Longenecker said.
Longenecker said Balliet’s role was Dean of Campers which meant he was a disciplinarian. That didn’t affect his relationship with the kids. How could it when everyone described Balliet as a big teddy bear?
“He just made everyone feel so good,” Balliet said. “The kids may think they’re in trouble, but the way he made it they weren’t.”
Haines left camp for 11 years before coming back as a counselor last summer. With Balliet, it’s like no time went by.
“When he saw me he hugged me, and said it was nice to see me,” Haines said.
Everyone who met Balliet knew he was funny and caring. Most of all they could tell he was happy.
“He talked about his family constantly,” Haines said. “He loved doing what he did. I think he was content with everything he did in his life.”
Longenecker said he recently got a call from Balliet telling him he wouldn’t be able to make it to the winter camp planned for early next year. Balliet told Longenecker he got promoted to battalion chief, and would be starting his new position during winter camp. Longenecker said he was very excited for it, and everyone at camp was so proud.