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Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Moving toward danger

Area first responders risk lives for others

By Margie Wuebker
In an emergency such as an explosion, a fire or a crime, most people move to safer places. Firefighters, emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officers rush forward to help, oftentimes putting themselves in harm's way.
Capt. Mark Heinl, a former road deputy with the Mercer County Sheriff's Office who serves as Mercer County Detention Facility administrator, said recent events such as the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line and the explosion at a Texas fertilizer factory underscore the importance of having highly trained first responders readily available.
Five years ago Heinl was en route to an anhydrous ammonia facility near Burkettsville after a truck driver reported smoke and a possible fire. Heinl arrived to discover there was no fire just toxic fumes leaking from the tanks. Burkettsville firefighters approached the scene as the wind suddenly changed and blew fumes at them.
Thirteen people, including Heinl, were taken to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater. The majority were treated then released while some remained hospitalized for days.
"The events in Texas brought all that back," Heinl said. "Like this area, many of those first responders were volunteers simply trying to help others."
Chickasaw Fire Chief Mark Seitz was getting ready for work Thursday morning when his wife Lisa asked him to watch television coverage and remember what he saw when the next emergency occurs.
Could a similar explosion occur here in Mercer County? Seitz quickly responded, "Yes." Although there are no fertilizer factories that hold the potential for such massive destruction, the county is home to 10 registered fertilizer distribution facilities.
Training has become a way of life for firefighters - in fact, one involving hazardous materials is taking place this morning at Marion Local Schools in Maria Stein. Responders from several area departments will participate in the mock event that includes a detailed evaluation at the conclusion.
"We train every week," Seitz said in regard to his department. "The requirements are more and more demanding ... we have to be prepared."
A situation involving a fire or some other emergency can change in an instant requiring immediate reaction.
"No two incidents are ever alike," the fire chief said. "The goal is saving lives and property and making sure everybody makes it back to the station."
Seitz believes many people do not understand the roles and responsibilities of first responders or the dangers they face. The last fatality involving area emergency personnel was Oct. 1, 2003, when an explosion in a silo at a New Knoxville lumber company claimed the lives of two volunteer firefighters from the New Bremen-German Township Fire Department and seriously injured another.
Linda Emmons, New Bremen Emergency Squad administrator and EMS coordinator for Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, believes it takes special people to fill the roles of first responders.
"People in civil service go into a situation believing they can help, they can make things better," Emmons said. "They have the necessary self confidence and training and the ability to put others first."
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