By Anna Skinner
When the Fishers Fire Dept. is called to the scene of a fire, the firefighters’ primary goal is to make sure all victims are out of the house and to get the fire under control.
The Fishers Fire Corps, a group of volunteers that aids firefighters with food, water and basic first aid, provide relief to those firefighters throughout the fire battle.
Now, the fire victims will receive more help on scene from Victim Assistance volunteers and Fishers residents Demaris Stewart and Robert Crowe, a pair of Fire Corps volunteers who are now certified by the Red Cross to take care of victims’ immediate needs whose home and belongings went up in flames.
“Before Fire Corps got involved, if there was a fire and someone needed Red Cross resources, Red Cross would have to be contacted and dispatched to those individuals,” Crowe said. “Now we became involved in Fire Corps, our issued vehicles are on scene, the fire’s out and then we become those two Red Cross responders.”
First and foremost, Crowe, Stewart and other Fire Corps volunteers are there to provide whatever aid in firefighters may need – heat in the winter, checking vitals, cooling firefighters down or providing food and beverages. If there are plenty of Fire Corps volunteers or the firefighters do not need assistance, Crowe and Stewart break off to their dual role of Victim Assistance.
“Mostly (Victim Assistance) is just helping (victims) understand what’s going on and to take care of the immediate needs,” Public Information Officer Capt. John Mehling said. “Right now, they’re just hand-holding and caring for individuals and keeping them from feeling alone. As things move along and they discover that, OK, they are not going to be able to stay with family or a neighbor, they need additional assistance, they take that Fire Corps hat off and put the Red Cross hat on. Having that additional training, they can identify if there’s a need for Red Cross so we don’t call up Red Cross when we didn’t really need them. The Victim Assistance is there so they can identify the needs if they are beyond what the fire department can do. They can provide a debit card to get them some clothing, some food, get them a hotel room, or if the victim needs to get to a drugstore to get medication.”
Stewart and Crowe are the only two Fishers residents trained in Victim Assistance, but approximately six Fire Corps members are undergoing training.
“Everyone thinks of Fishers as a very affluent community, well-insured and people don’t have needs,” Mehling said. “They’re well off, but that’s not always the case. Even for the people that have those financial resources, most people aren’t emotionally prepared for these circumstances. When everything you have is taken from you, people quickly find out how lost they are.”
Why Fire Corps began
The Victim Assistance program was developed last year. Public Information Officer Capt. John Mehling said the Fishers Fire Dept. identified a problem where the incident commander and firefighters were busy putting the fire out and not tending to the victims once they are out of immediate danger.
Those interested in volunteering for the Fire Corps can fill out an application at fishers.in.us/index.aspx?NID=235. Mehling said the Fishers Fire Dept. trains Fire Corps members to a certain point, and then the Red Cross takes over training for those wanting to get involved in Victim Assistance.