Brownsburg Fire Territory Firefighters Give Behind-the-Scenes Look, Talk Serving the Community
Photographer: Amy Payne
It’s not an easy schedule, but nothing about being a firefighter is easy. Working 24/48, firefighters with the Brownsburg Fire Territory come in at 7 a.m., work a full 24 hours and are off for 48 hours.
Catching some sleep is no picnic, either, as firefighters must adjust to lying in a room that goes from pitch black and silence to bright lights and bells, then jump out of bed and gear up in a matter of seconds.
“It’s an adrenaline rush for sure,” says Captain Ryan Miller, Brownsburg Fire Territory’s Public Information Officer. “But it’s all worth it to get to serve the public.”
The Brownsburg Fire Territory has three fire stations. Station 131, the largest of the stations, is located on Main Street, Station 132, built in 1995, is at 267 and 1000 North, and Station 133, the newest, is at 650 N and CR 1000 E, close to the rapidly growing area of Ronald Reagan and 56th Street.
They’ve renovated the sleeping areas in Station 131, changing them from a 14-bed open bunk room into dorm-style sleeping quarters. This not only allows firefighters to snooze more soundly but they have also installed individualized alerting systems, which means that only those who need to be are alerted. In other words, if the medic truck is going on a run, those on the engine won’t be awoken.
Down the line, they may refurbish Station 132. According to Miller, they haven’t yet done so because they want to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars.
“When someone dials 911, they are likely having the worst day of their life,” Miller says. “When that day comes, we want to be sure we have the absolute best equipment, coupled with the best training so that we can provide the best service possible to our community.”
Through the years, both fires and firefighting have dramatically changed. Decades ago, houses were made out of real wood and furniture was made of natural materials. Today, however, everything we furnish our homes with is made out of synthetics — furniture, clothing, carpet fibers. Plus, often structures are wrapped in vinyl siding.
“You combine that with all of the other plastics in the home and these fires are burning a lot hotter and faster than in the past,” Miller says.
Due to the materials that are burning, firefighters have been exposed to more carcinogens, resulting in a spike in cancer. According to Miller, research has found that the black hoods firefighters wear over their head and ears to prevent burns absorbs a lot of carcinogens. Before learning this, following a fire, many firefighters would pull the hoods down around their throats where carcinogens absorbed into their bodies. They now educate firefighters to immediately throw their hoods into a dedicated bin for cleaning and decontamination.
“We’re trying to implement best practices to protect our people in the long term,” says Chief Larry Alcorn of the Brownsburg Fire Territory, who recently lost a former Wayne Township colleague to cancer.
In addition, technology has improved with devices built into their air tanks that enable crew members to locate one another should someone go down in a fire. Their turnout gear now offers better thermal protection, allowing firefighters to stay in hazardous environments for longer periods of time.
“There’s an ongoing discussion throughout the fire service pertaining to whether or not this is a good thing,” says Miller, who has been with the Brownsburg Fire Territory for 20 years. “While it allows us to get further back into buildings, sometimes that can prove dangerous.”
Recently, the Brownsburg Fire Territory started implementing drone technology to aid in search and rescue missions.
“We can get a bird’s eye view of an area, which allows us to cover ground faster,” Miller says.
Last year the Brownsburg Fire Territory had a total of 3,765 runs. Their calls range from the mundane to the miraculous. They field what they refer to as “smells and bells”—where someone sniffs an odor that worries them or an alarm of some sort sounds. Often these calls turn out to be someone using a charcoal grill in their backyard or burning garbage illegally. Other times massive flames are shooting through every window of a house.
They also respond to accidents and predicaments. For instance, one time a woman called, frantic because her puppy’s head had gotten stuck in the iron legs of a coffee table. Another day firefighters revived a cardiac arrest patient who had been declared clinically dead.
“We never know what we’re going to roll up on until we get there,” Miller says.
That’s why they have to be prepared.
Brownsburg Fire Territory has a specialized training facility — the only one in Hendricks County — that has various shipping cubes, as well as cars, minivans and a school bus, all cut into pieces. They practice cutting different vehicles to gain quick access to passengers. Changing technology requires constant training. Take hybrid vehicles, for instance, which have high-voltage power lines going from the rear of the vehicle to the motor that’s in the front.
“It’s vital that we learn where it’s safe to cut a car because the last thing we want to do is slice through a high-voltage power line, potentially injuring ourselves and others,” Miller says.
The same holds true of airbags.
“In our line of work, we frequently see how airbags can be a lifesaver,” Miller says. “But if we have an undeployed airbag in a car and we accidentally cut through the inflation cylinder, there are things that we have to be familiar with to protect ourselves and the people we are there to serve.”
One seasonal training they do is ice rescue training on the retention pond in the back of their facility. This is essential because every year people wander out onto thin ice. Sometimes it’s kids. Sometimes it’s fishermen. Sometimes it’s an owner trying to retrieve their pet.
“Being submerged in frigid water is a shock to the system and adversely affects our bodies physiologically,” Miller says. “It doesn’t take long for a person to start losing dexterity and consciousness.”
A big part of ice rescue training involves acclimating to wearing the specialized, insulated suits that are both bulky and buoyant, making it difficult to swim or even walk.
“It’s like having a life jacket covering your entire body,” Miller says.
Firefighters also participate in regular EMS training.
“We never stop learning,” Miller adds. “If we’re not practicing, we’re doing a disservice to the public.”
Alcorn, a firefighter for 37 years, grew up across the street from a fire station and dreamed of one day joining the ranks.
“My grandfather was a starting member of the Wayne Township Fire Department,” says Alcorn, who became a volunteer firefighter at 19. “It’s the best job in the world. I’m extremely excited to be a part of such a noble profession. After all these years, I still love it.”
His colleagues would agree. Posted on the walls of the Brownsburg Fire Territory is their mission, leadership principles and vision statements. The words act as a visual reminder for their purpose in life: “Brownsburg Fire Territory’s reason for being is to provide the highest standard of vigilant service to all of those who may seek our help.”