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Portage Fire Chief Thomas Fieffer

Portage Fire Chief Thomas Fieffer

My goal was always to become a firefighter. I take great pride in helping others, preserving lives and adding value to my community. There are now 30,052 total fire departments in the United States, and the majority of them are volunteer-driven. I quickly discovered it is difficult to become a career firefighter because there are not many jobs available. To fulfill my lifelong passion, I became a volunteer for Chesterton in 1991 and continued lending a hand until 2010. In 1992, I also became a firefighter at National Steel and performed fire, emergency medical and security services. During this time, I had the opportunity to work with the compassionate people at the Portage Fire Department on calls. That is what appealed to me when a position became available. Since 1994, I’ve had the honor and privilege of working for the city of Portage. I was appointed fire chief on Feb. 22, 2010. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to accomplish my dream and oversee the three fire stations.

According to The National Fire Incident Reporting System, EMS and rescue calls were responsible for 64 percent of all fire department runs in 2014. The Portage Fire Department responds to more than 4,000 calls per year. We provide full Advanced Life Support (ALS), which means we provide emergency medical services (EMS) in addition to fire. Our calls include medical emergencies and motor vehicle accidents. We often respond to calls in nursing homes, acute care or dialysis centers. Because of our proximity to steel mills, we see various tragic accidents.

The joyful moments help balance the difficult ones. When we go into a home to put out a fire and see everything demolished, it is heartbreaking. Then, you find a wedding album in the ashes and bring it to the homeowners. At that moment, nothing else in the world matters.

We look for firefighters who are compassionate individuals because most every call we receive is somebody’s worst day. The next quality we look for is eagerness to learn.

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This is why I am excited to be part of the leadership team for a new, local academy. The Multi Agency Academic Cooperative (MAAC) Foundation is a non-profit organization established on a 4 ½-acre parcel in Valparaiso. We strive to meet training requirements of departments locally, regionally and statewide to provide safety, emergency preparedness and response training. We have partnered with the District 1 Training Council (a division of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security) which covers Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper and Newton counties. MAAC gives us the real-life training opportunities through simulations in a specialized state-of-the-art facility.

The MAAC Academy is important to the Portage Fire Department on several levels. It will help with our Insurance Service Organization rating to give us the ability to earn credits for potential savings within a business or homeowner’s budget. The academy also gives us the ability to work with other local fire departments, leading to greater teamwork in crisis situations.

As firefighters, our calling requires that we participate in ongoing training. MAAC brings it all full circle for us, and for that I am grateful. For more information on our efforts to develop this training academy, please visit www.maacfoundation.com

Thomas Fieffer is chief of the Portage Fire Department. The opinions are the writer's.

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