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Firefighters honored for 25 years of service in Jackson Township

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Firefighters Don Leohr, Don Lanham, Tim Stearley and Lester Fagg were recently recognized for 25 years of service to the Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Department by the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association and members of the department.

Fire Chief Eddie Treadway said the event was long overdue.

"While going through records, I discovered these men had been a part of the department since the beginning and have never been honored for their service," he said. "The men were crucial to organizing the department. They're a great bunch of guys and they deserve recognition."

In July 1981 when other local fire departments were pushed to their limits trying to cover the rural area, Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Department was an unusual venture because there is no city to provide financial support.

This desire and determination to band together to protect their community has forged a brotherhood among these four men and their fellow firefighters over the years. Receiving their recognition pins was cause to celebrate and reminisce about the past with The Brazil Times.

With so many memories over the years, it was difficult for some to choose a favorite. But Don Leohr didn't have a problem.

"I was getting ready to go to work one morning and ended up going to a fire," he said. "There I was, dressed in a suit and tie, holding on to a fire hose fighting a trash fire. That's why they call me the best dressed fireman on the department."

Holding down a full time job and answering fire calls can make life difficult for volunteer firefighters.

"There's been a lot of sleepless nights over the years," Don Lanham said. "You get called out for a fire at 4:30 in the evening and work it till 3 in the morning, then rush home to get a little bit of sleep before you go to work the next day. That can make for a awful long day on the job."

The men agreed: It's the people they help and the ones they work with that makes juggling two careers worthwhile while only being paid to do one.

"I've really enjoyed the brotherhood of fire fighting, not only here, but with the other departments as well," Tim Stearley said. "When we show up at a fire, we've got one thing on our minds, to help get the job done. We're there experiencing the ups and downs together. We know the rush of trying to save a house or a life, the sadness of reporting a victim to a family. We help each other through it all."

Willingness to work as a team and help out is vital to success.

"There was a fire behind my house and at the time they didn't have a chain saw to cut down a burning tree. So I went and got mine. Afterwards, they invited me down to join," Fagg said. "Our camaraderie among departments is great. It doesn't matter whether we're paid to do this job or not, we're all professionals."

Professionalism in the line of duty is important to the men who help their neighbors in many ways. Some of their most touching memories happened during toy drives for local families in need during the holidays.

"I recall one Christmas Eve, where we went to a family's house where they didn't have anything, no tree, nothing," Fagg said. "But before we left there, the children were stringing popcorn for the tree. It's those moments I cherish the most."

Without community support of the fire department, the fulfillment of a 25-year dream wouldn't have became a reality last year.

"In the beginning, all we wanted to do was fight fires. We felt like John Wayne and the cavalry arriving to put out a fire," Stearley said. "With a 1953 International pump engine it wasn't that glorious, so we dreamed of a new engine for years. It took us 25 years, but we finally did it last year. We wouldn't have been able to do that without the public's help."

Answering the community's needs while staying on top of new technology and has led to many changes in department over the years.

"(The department has) evolved into a medical unit trained for auto extraction," Fagg said. "We're out here by ourselves, but our community expects the same service from us as there is in big cities, and we've tried to meet that expectation."

The department faces difficulties when filing for grants, the firemen said. Because there is no city to support it, Dan Lanham provided a humorous answer to funding problems.

"Well, we're just gonna have to build a town now," he said.

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