Avon Firefighter Has a Gift for Woodworking
Writer: Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography Provided by the Jenkins Family
As a young boy, Mitch Jenkins watched intently as his family — particularly his grandfather — created items out of wood. When Jenkins turned 10, his grandpa began teaching him the hands-on of woodworking by making cabinets.
“We had a detached two-car garage that I basically took over at age 14,” Jenkins says. “That’s when I started buying tools and experimenting with my own projects.”
Though he always had an affinity for woodworking, Jenkins wasn’t sure what career he wanted to pursue. Then his father, a police officer, handed him an application for the volunteer fire department.
“I liked the idea of helping people just like my father always had, so nine years ago I joined the volunteer fire department,” Jenkins says. “I liked participating in community awareness programs. Driving a big red truck for a living is also fun.”
He earned a degree in public service administration from IUPUI and got hired at a fire station near the Indianapolis Airport before joining the Avon Fire Department in 2016 at Station 142 on Ronald Reagan Parkway. Though he loves the community aspect of the job, he admits that the most challenging runs are those involving children.
“It’s so hard — especially those emergencies with young children or newborns who can’t speak,” Jenkins says. “But that’s what’s great about having a crew with you. When there are five or six other guys there, you always have one that’s great with kids. Everyone has their strengths.”
One strength all firefighters must have is adapting to fragmented sleep schedules and going long periods without food. Though there are shifts when maybe only one or two calls come in, other days the station may receive 15 or 20 calls. And that often translates to no time for meals.
“Sometimes we’re halfway through cooking dinner and a call comes in. Or it’s five or six at night and we haven’t made it to the store to buy food,” Jenkins says.
Adjusting to crazy hours is another challenge — mostly for his wife, Kirsten, who has had to get used to him working 24 hours on, 48 hours off. Though it was rough at first, Jenkins enjoys the schedule since it allows him to have two days off to do anything he wants. Usually, that entails woodworking in his garage.
“I get so pumped up doing these projects,” says Jenkins, who launched his own company, MK Fire Designs, in 2015 (MK stands for Mitch and Kirsten). He’s been hesitant to build a website because he keeps plenty busy filling orders for folks who find him on Facebook or hear about him through word of mouth.
Though he sells a number of carved, framed signs at craft shows with phrases such as “Thankful & Grateful,” “Love You More” and “Every Day I Love You,” his focus for 2018 will be mostly on producing custom flag signs, which are 19.5 x 37 in size and fashioned out of pine (with oak in the center). He makes a ton of them for fire stations, carving in their particular logo and station number and then painting it.
“I’ve had a number of fire chiefs contact me, asking for one for their firehouse,” says Jenkins, who gives them to retiring firefighters as gifts. Each flag costs $250. Though many have urged him to raise his prices given the items’ high quality, Jenkins refrains.
“You look online and prices vary, but I’m not looking to get rich doing this,” he says. “I’m in it to provide a meaningful service to firefighters, police, military — the brotherhood.”
Though flags are his top seller, other popular items include personalized cutting boards (ideal for wedding presents) and the Star Wars Aztec calendar, which is typically made out of MDF (medium density fiber board) and hung on the wall, though he can carve it into a coffee table or something else if that’s what the customer wants. Every order is 100 percent custom. He draws 3D images on his computer with four different colors, which he then sends to his clients.
“It’s endless what I can do,” says Jenkins, who also designs furniture. “If I don’t know how to make something a customer requests, I have enough tools and experience to figure out how.”
A good portion of his week, however, is spent serving the public. Though there’s no way of knowing when an emergency will occur, many EMS runs happen in the wee hours of the morning and fire alarms often sound at 7 a.m. when office buildings open. Not surprisingly, car accidents ramp up during heavy congestion and when snow starts falling. The three Avon fire stations definitely stay busy. According to Dan Smith, Avon Fire Chief, Washington Township/Avon Fire made a total of 4,962 runs in 2017.
Besides tending to calls, firefighters also spend time cleaning their trucks, working out at the station’s gym, talking to school children about fire safety and attending various PR events. They also do several training exercises during every shift —some regarding medical, others regarding fire or hazmat safety.
“That’s something the public probably doesn’t know is the amount of training and EMS refreshers we do to practice protocols and stay up on certifications,” says Jenkins, whose most memorable experience on the job happened several years ago when two massive CSX freight trains in northwest Indiana collided going 50 mph. The carnage from the crash was massive.
“It was wild to see a locomotive in pieces,” Jenkins says. “I was there for 16 hours. Clean-up lasted for weeks.”
Though Jenkins and his wife don’t yet have children, he hopes to grow their family soon. As for now, the couple owns two dogs — Oakley, a 2-year-old black lab whom they rescued from the Hendricks County Shelter, and Chief, a 6-year-old mastiff/lab mix Jenkins found alongside the road last spring.
When Jenkins does become a dad, it’s safe to say that his children will learn the fine art of woodworking. The only question is, “Will Mitch share his garage?”
To see more of Jenkin’s woodworking designs, search him on Facebook.