Local firefighters raise awareness for causes by walking 5Ks in full gear


Every step they take, three causes are on their minds.

First, local firefighters know a burn tower is needed in Jackson County so they can participate in training and help homeowners save money on their insurance.

Second, they are raising awareness for heart-related disease in firefighters since they are at greater risk than the average person.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Finally, by walking in 5Ks, they are supporting local organizations that benefit from the proceeds.

They, however, are not wearing the typical 5K apparel. They are wearing their full gear that weighs around 60 pounds, consisting of a helmet, an SCBA Air-Pak, bunker pants and a bunker jacket.

So far, the firefighters have participated in 5Ks during the Freetown July Festival and Fort Vallonia Days and completed Girls Inc. of Jackson County’s Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.

In December, they will plan the 5K walk schedule for 2019. They will be asking local individuals and businesses to donate a certain amount of money per mile they walk with proceeds going toward buying a burn tower.

“Anybody is welcome to walk with us,” said Ben Spencer, deputy chief of the Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department.

“We do have fun, we do have entertainment and we get out and we tour the community,” he said. “If you’re a firefighter, come on out. If your husband is a firefighter, your wife is a firefighter, dad is or you just want to come out and show support for us, anybody is more than welcome.”

The idea started in the summer when local firefighters wanted to support the Pershing Township Volunteer Fire Department’s 5K run/walk, organized by Lindsey McKinney during the Freetown July Festival.

“As we got closer and closer and closer, it became kind of a ‘Hey, are you going to do it in gear? Let’s do it in gear’ type of thing, kind of a challenge thing,” Spencer said.

Crothersville-Vernon Township firefighter Donald Crater had done a lot of 5Ks, so other firefighters recruited him to join in the effort. He, however, had never done a 5K in firefighter gear.

The small group at Freetown grew to eight from four different departments for the Vallonia 5K, and then there were five from two departments braving the early morning cold weather for the Turkey Trot in Seymour.

“We try to go on Facebook live when we’re doing it, and we have fun when we’re doing it, so our hope is to get representation from every department walking with us during the 5K as a big group,” Spencer said.

The Jackson County Fire Chief’s Association will oversee the fundraising. Along with accepting donations, the organization will be applying for grants because the burn tower costs between $150,000 and $250,000.

“We need to start now,” Spencer said of fundraising. “In order to achieve that goal, we need to have conversations and put boots to the ground as we’re doing and make sure that we can get that secured within the next three to five years.”

Spencer said a burn tower is needed because the state requires all firefighters — paid and volunteer — to go through training before they respond to a fire.

“I can talk to you until I’m blue in the face about how hot it truly is, and we need to actually have people experience that,” he said. “Obviously, your first fire that you come in contact with or you try to put out should not be on an actual call.”

With rules and regulations, it’s very difficult to obtain a house to burn, Spencer said. Adding in inspections, it can cost a lot of money.

“Then you use it one time and you’re done versus a burn tower, it is a multiple-story building that you burn over and over and over again over the course of years,” he said. “That actually suffices toward the curriculum for the state of Indiana to say, ‘Yes, we met that job requirement.’”

The plan is to have the burn tower in Seymour.

“It has been in talks for about two years now, and what we wanted to do is to make sure that every department in Jackson County can utilize it,” Spencer said. “With Seymour being the only paid department, we wanted to put it in and around Seymour so they can utilize it so they don’t have to go very far.”

Another bonus of a burn tower is ISO insurance safety points. That organization likes to see fire departments training with a burn tower.

“That will actually help out your insurance safety rating for the fire department, which in turn will save people on their homeowners insurance,” Spencer said. “We’re going to raise money to get this, but in the long term, possibly it could save you money on your homeowners insurance depending upon how often your fire department uses it.”

Bringing awareness to heart-related issues also is important because it’s the No. 1 killer of firefighters, Spencer said. Nationwide, 100 firefighters die in the line of duty every year, he said.

“Just because we go in a nice, calm environment to the most extreme environment on the planet, and we’re back and forth into that all of the time,” he said. “Not only that, we go into situations or atmospheres that are cancer-causing agents, so we have to combat that, as well.”

Having a healthy lifestyle is important, too, so that’s where the 5Ks come into play.

Crater said they can track the number of miles they are walking and also let other participants understand what they are doing.

“The different 5Ks you go to are different groups of people,” he said. “We’re being seen by large swaths of the community that way, and you never know who’s here.”

It’s good for people to see firefighters in full gear in a non-emergency situation, he said.

“When something bad is happening and they see us in gear, he can be pretty scary when he has everything on,” Crater said. “But if they’ve seen them them like that before, it tames it down a little bit. If you’ve got somebody that’s hiding and they think you’re a scary monster, they don’t think that anymore. They say, ‘That’s him, and I know him.’”

The firefighters also like how they are able to support local causes.

“We’re not here to take away from them. We’re here to support them,” Spencer said. “The entry fees that we pay are coming out of our own pocket to support them. We want to make sure that their efforts are on the forefront, and we’re lucky enough to come and participate.”

If their participation encourages others to pursue a career as a firefighter, that’s good, too, Crater said.

Crothersville seventh-grader Brayden Crater, a cadet with the Crothersville-Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department, joined the group for the Turkey Trot.

Donald Crater said it’s important for the younger generation to be active in the community.

“Kids like Brayden in FFA do a lot of community involvement. That’s our entire next wave of volunteer firefighters,” Donald said. “The type of kids that volunteer to go work hard and be a part of the FFA are the same type of people that are going to say, ‘I’m OK with helping my community and not worrying about what I’m making money to do.’”

As Brayden moves forward, he will continue to gain leadership skills, Donald said.

“He will be a leader in the department already because he has been around Ben teaching him constantly things he’s doing wrong and how he can be better at things,” Donald said. “By the time he gets to where he’s an adult, he’s going to know all of this stuff really well, and somebody like me is going to look at him as ‘Brayden, what should we do?’”

With a few 5Ks under their belts, the firefighters are excited about what’s to come in 2019.

“We have quite a few volunteer departments in our county. We’re from Vernon at the southern end of the county, and we’ve got Pershing (at the northern end). We never get to interact with them, so I think this is a good way to,” Crothersville-Vernon Township firefighter Brady Riley said. “It’s a brotherhood. We’re all coming together as a team to raise money for the county, and it’s going to in the end benefit everybody.”

Hamilton Township firefighter Tyler Wetzel is glad to be a part of the effort, too.

“I think it’s good to get out in the community and meet new people,” he said. “A lot of these guys, other than Ben, I didn’t even know until I started walking with them, so I think it helps me get out and learn names and faces.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

The Jackson County Fire Chief’s Association is a nonprofit organization compromised of fire chiefs from all fire jurisdictions in the county.

For information, find the organization on Facebook.


No posts to display