Firefighters honored for 50-plus years of service



Ask any firefighter if they do their job to receive glory or some type of award, most would extinguish that thought.

Most likely, they do it to serve their community, help people and be a part of a brotherhood.

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Rick Blaker Sr. and Mike Rudolph recently were recognized for their 50-plus years of service with the Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department.

Each of them received a gold card and a pin from the Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association and certificates from the Indiana General Assembly during the department’s awards dinner.

They now have life membership with the organization, meaning their department no longer has to cover their annual dues.

While it was nice to be recognized, the two men were quick to mention that’s not why they have remained loyal volunteers.

“I’ve done it all of these years, and I can’t see myself doing anything else,” said Blaker, 71.

“It’s just the satisfaction of being able to help your friends and neighbors,” said Rudolph, 66. “What can I say. It’s something that gets in your blood.”

Only one other Pershing Township firefighter has reached 50 years of service. That was Lyle Ault, a charter member who served 56 years.

Dedicated group

According to the IVFA, 563 firefighters have life memberships. The organization was established in 1945.

Kaleb McKinney, president of the fire department, said he admires the dedication of Blaker and Rudolph.

“It was a huge commitment,” he said. “If you ask them on Day 1, ‘Are you going to be here in 50 years?’ I’ll bet neither one of them would have said, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll be right there.’ But as time goes on, the next year comes along and you keep doing it and keep doing it, and the next thing you know, 50 years is here.”

Ben Rudolph, chief of the fire department and Mike’s son, said it’s a huge milestone for his father and Blaker.

“To just fathom the sacrifices to their families, the dedication that they’ve made and have committed to their community, it’s unreal,” he said. “It’s kind of humbling, to be honest with you.”

McKinney and Ben both have their 10-year pins from the IVFA with 18 and 20 years of service, respectively.

The accomplishments of Blaker and Mike encourage them to work toward 50 years.

“Receiving that award is not as important as doing the job,” McKinney said. “It is a nice thank-you, and we appreciate it from the IVFA and from the General Assembly, but we’re all here doing it to help people. It’s definitely a lot more seeing the dedication and the time that they’ve spent over the last 50 years that is a much more motivating factor than the award.”

Blaker and Mike Rudolph both grew up in Freetown.

Blaker graduated from Freetown High School in 1964 and worked at Cummins Engine Co. for 30 years until retiring in 1996.

Rudolph attended school in Freetown through eighth grade and then moved on to Brownstown Central High School and graduated in 1969. He earned a secondary education degree from Ball State University in 1973.

After teaching in Crothersville for one year, he switched to banking, serving as manager of Citizens State Bank in Freetown for several years.

He changed to a real estate career in 1988, starting with Coldwell Banker in Seymour. It later changed to Prudential and Berkshire Hathaway, and he retired in December 2016. He also was an auctioneer for 30 years.

In the beginning

Blaker started with the fire department in May 1966. Paul David “Pud” Stogdill, the chief at the time, talked him into joining.

“He asked me if I was interested, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Then I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it,’” Blaker said. “I saw a need in the community for what I did, and it was just an obligation on my part to assist the community.”

Stogdill still was chief when Rudolph joined in June 1967. His father, Carvan, was a founding member of the department and helped obtain the first two firetrucks.

“We got the firetrucks before we had a building, so the firetrucks were parked in my front yard until the building was built,” Rudolph said. “As a kid, I kind of got used to the firetrucks sitting in my front yard, and when they built the building and took them away, I went with them.”

When both men started, there weren’t training programs in place.

“Pud kind of took me under his wing,” Blaker said. “He got the truck out there, and he tended the pumps, and I held the hose, and he said, ‘OK, there you go.’”

Rudolph said Stogdill had been on the fire brigade in the U.S. Navy.

“That’s basically where his training had come from,” he said.

The department had two firetrucks at the time — both 1944 models that came from Camp Atterbury surplus in Edinburgh.

Rudolph’s father, who also was the township trustee, asked Joe Gray, who lived just outside of Freetown and worked at Camp Atterbury, about helping the department get a truck.

Carvan and other founding members went to Camp Atterbury to check out a truck, which had a price tag of $150. While there, Gray told them about another truck that was available for $50. The only thing wrong with it was a hole in the oil pan.

They ended up getting both trucks, taking the one to a local garage to fix the oil pan.

Today, the department has eight trucks.

Another change over the years was training becoming a requirement. Based on their training level, firefighters were second class, first class or master. Blaker and Rudolph both worked their way up to master in instruction, tactics and arson.

Today, the training levels are firefighter 1 and firefighter 2.

In the late 1970s, Pershing Township became the first Jackson County fire department to do medical runs. That required more training, so Blaker obtained his emergency medical technician license in 1976, and Rudolph became a first responder.

Equipment has changed, too. Blaker and Rudolph used to wear large rubber boots, long coats and Army helmets. Now, they have turnout gear.

They also went from holding their breath while going into a burning structure to having access to self-contained breathing apparatus.

“It’s a lot better now,” Blaker said, smiling.

The big issue in the early days, Rudolph said, is the department didn’t have much money. Township residents were asked to buy a membership for $2 each year to help fund the department.

“Many times, we came in from a fire run, and guys would reach in their pocket and pull out a quarter or 50 cents, and somebody would take the truck up to Bob Denny’s service station or to Burnside Garage and put gas in it,” Rudolph said.

In 1993, Pershing Township was the first fire department in the county to have a fire district. A board was created to have authority to set the property tax rate for the fire district and collect money to help fund the fire department.

Rudolph served as chief from 1978 to 1983, and then Blaker took over and remained chief until 2015. Then Ben Rudolph became chief.

‘A brotherhood’

While they are still members of the fire department, neither Mike Rudolph nor Blaker run into burning houses to fight fires anymore.

“The want-to is still there. I just can’t do it,” Blaker said, noting the health issues he has had in recent years.

Rudolph also has had some medical issues, but he can still drive a firetruck. In fact, he was the department’s top run-maker in 2017.

“(Other firefighters) take off in the pumper, I can bring the tanker, and I can run the pumps on a truck,” Mike said.

Mike also goes to the station on Columbus Pike to check on the fleet, let trucks run that haven’t been on recent calls and start pumps on the brush units.

“I feel as long as I can contribute something — I don’t know what that something is — I don’t want to stick around and be a burden to these guys,” Mike said.

When he is released from his doctor, Blaker said he wants to help when he can.

“It’s a brotherhood,” he said.

Mike said he would like to see the department’s personnel increase. There used to be nearly 30 members, but it’s now at 16.

“We’re kind of at a manpower shortage not just in this department but volunteer departments nationwide,” he said.

People have to be willing to do the work for free and keep up on training.

“It’s consistent across the board now in the volunteer level, you have to be trained at the same level as a career firefighter, so it’s a huge amount of dedication for somebody new to go through all of their training to get to that level,” Ben said.

Plus, of the current members of the department, only one is in their 20s. The rest are in their 30s or older, with Blaker being the oldest at 71.

“You’ve got people out here that are working two jobs trying to support their family. I get it. They don’t have time,” Mike said. “My hope is that just anyone that has got time, interest and some dedication, to see some new people joining the fire department because if not, who knows what’s going to happen.”

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The Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department recently conducted its awards dinner.

Rick Blaker Sr. and Mike Rudolph received their Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association gold cards and pins for 50 years of service.

Joe Francis received his pin for 25 years of service, and Rob Klakamp received his 10-year pin.

Aaron Otte was voted Firefighter of the Year by the members of the fire department.

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For information, “like” the Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department Inc. Facebook page.

For information about the Indiana Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, visit


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