Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

January 4, 2013

Letters to the Editor Jan. 5, 2013


— To the Editor:

I supervise student teachers, which means I visit schools around central and northern Indiana. Since 2011, I have visited 225 schools.

Most of them require that I go in and sign in at the office, which means I am already in the building so there is no security.

A few have me buzz in and identify who I am and why I am there, which does provide security.

All schools need to make me buzz in and tell who I am and why I am there.

Ray Saxman


To the Editor:

The Hendricks County Flyer recently published a front page article, "Mother thanks strangers for saving her son's life." In that Dec. 19 article, reporter Brenda Holmes described a recent and remarkable rescue event conducted jointly by three Hendricks County fire departments.

Understandably and appropriately, the article was largely from the mother's perspective as she expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the firefighters who saved the life of her young son when they successfully extricated him from a silage wagon in which he'd been trapped and severely injured. There's a bit of a back story, the story behind the story as it were, which I thought your readers might find interesting.

At 3:57 p.m. Dec. 1, the Hendricks County Dispatch Center in Plainfield received a 9-1-1 emergency call reporting that a young man, Matthew Mongan Sercer, was trapped inside a silage wagon. Dispatcher Jennifer Gilbert took the call and promptly triggered a process that over the next hour would result in 18 first responders from three fire departments and two police departments converging on the rural scene and saving Sercer's life.

We've all seen these silage wagons in fields all over Indiana. A typical one is approximately 16 feet long and 10 feet wide, with high sides to contain the silage. At the front and bottom of this particular silage wagon was a large screw-like auger that rotates and discharges the silage out the side, above which were two or three rotating beater bars that help move the silage down to the auger. While cleaning the interior of the wagon, Sercer had somehow become trapped in the auger and one of the beater bars.

Within a minute of receiving the 9-1-1 call, the Dispatch Center triggered the alarm at the Plainfield Fire Department, and less than a minute later, an engine raced from the station with four specially trained firefighters aboard. While these firefighters were enroute, Gilbert maintained telephone communications with the 9-1-1 caller and even spoke to and reassured the frightened young victim. A second dispatcher, Christina Sells, was now in radio communications with the Plainfield engine.

Arriving at the rural location on Plainfield's far westside about four minutes later, the Plainfield firefighters discovered Sercer trapped inside the silage wagon with his legs wedged inside the auger and one of the beater bars. Still conscious and responsive, Sercer was losing a tremendous amount of blood and had a variety of broken bones, dislocated joints, and other wounds. The Plainfield firefighters quickly connected with the young man on a personal level, stabilized his medical situation, and assessed the situation; if the victim wasn't quickly extricated, he could very well bleed to death.

This would probably be a good time to let you know that virtually all Hendricks County fire departments are partners in a countywide Rescue Task Force in which the personnel, expertise, tools, equipment, and vehicles of each department is available to and shared with all the others if and when the need arises. This would be one of those times.

Plainfield's primary rescue vehicle, with all of its unique rescue tools and equipment, was unavailable, so the Brownsburg and Danville rescue squads were also dispatched to the scene. Coming the farthest (roughly 13 miles), Brownsburg was last to arrive on the scene, a mere 18 minutes after the 9-1-1 call was received. Local police were now also on the scene and the Lifeline helicopter from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, with a trauma team aboard, was already in the air and racing to the scene.

All three fire departments immediately went to work, quickly and expertly and as a team. Additional firefighters with medical expertise climbed inside the silage wagon and continued to attend to Sercer's medical situation. Another three firefighters with extrication expertise climbed inside and, coordinating with others on the outside, began to disassemble the wagon and the moving parts in which Sercer was trapped. I can't even begin to describe the tools and techniques used, so I won't try. But trust me - these folks train constantly for moments like this. I've seen it.

While all this was happening, Plainfield Fire Chief Brian Russell, monitoring the radio from home, arrived on the scene to assist as needed.

Brownsburg Fire Chief Bill Brown was also at home monitoring the radio.

With the initial on-site assessment uncertain whether Sercer could be saved with a badly mangled left leg severely wedged inside the auger, Brown - recently lured away from the Indianapolis Fire Department and also the former director of Indiana's Task Force One - radioed in to the Dispatch Center, then raced to Methodist Hospital to personally transport, if necessary, a trauma doctor with expertise in the area of field amputations.

Shortly after Brown arrived at Methodist, the firefighters at the scene, working quickly and cohesively, completed the necessary disassembly, successfully extricated Sercer from the auger, and carefully lifted him up and out of the silage wagon. From start to finish - about 17 minutes! Thankfully, no amputation was necessary.

With Sercer's medical circumstances stabilized, the firefighters began to transport him a short distance across an adjoining field just as the Lifeline helicopter dropped out of the sky and touched down. With the rotors still spinning, Sercer was loaded and mere minutes later the helicopter launched itself back into the air. Incredibly, only about 40 minutes had passed since the 9-1-1 call first came in.

All of the onsite firefighters took a deep breath, exchanged some high fives, got their adrenaline levels back down to normal, collected their tools, cleaned up the area and their equipment, then promptly reported back in-service (available) as they departed the scene and returned to their home stations to await the next call.

At about 4:51 p.m., less than an hour after the 9-1-1 call came in, the Lifeline helicopter touched down on the roof at Methodist Hospital and within minutes Sercer was in surgery.

I'm told that follow-up information on rescues isn't typically sought by fire departments, but this particular rescue event was somewhat unusual.

From what we know, Sercer's life was not only saved, but the surgeons successfully saved and reconstructed his legs and it's likely he will walk again someday, although probably with a limp. One of the Methodist doctors involved in Sercer's care reportedly stated that if not for the actions of these amazing firefighters, this young man could easily have died.

Too often the media bombards us with only the bad news - wars raging in the Middle East, the fiscal cliff in Washington, violence in our schools, abused or neglected children, and yes, reports of elected or appointed public officials abusing their positions and the public's trust for personal gain. I'm ashamed to say that I think we've almost become numb to it.

I think there's this perception out there that many of our public servants are lazy, no good, do nothing miscreants. I'm here to tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Every now and then - too rarely, if you ask me - we hear the good side of the news and are given a glimpse of public servants at their best. (Thank you, Ms. Holmes!)

As exemplified by these fine firefighters from Plainfield, Brownsburg, and Danville, the vast majority of public servants are honest, hard working people who daily do their jobs extremely well and with pride, honesty, and integrity. And without fanfare - they neither need nor seek it. With personal dignity as their primary motivation, these fine people daily and quietly go about the business of serving their communities. True guardians of the public's trust.

It's almost amusing. On the football field or the basketball court, our communities regularly do battle for honor and glory and school pride.

There is no more raucous crowd than on Friday night when Plainfield dares to venture onto the sacred turf of Brownsburg's football field. We relish the competition, the battle, and of course, the victory.

But in that rescue situation on Plainfield's westside, with a young man's life almost certainly hanging in the balance, our fire departments and those individual firefighters came together and worked as a team, as partners in the truest sense of the word. That afternoon in early December, there were no uniform distinctions, no jurisdictional boundaries, no rivalries, and absolutely no egos. They cared about one thing and one thing only - rescue that trapped young man and do it successfully.

As a member of the Brownsburg Town Council, I am privileged to also serve on the Brownsburg Fire Territory's executive board and the Dispatch Center's governing board. In all three roles, I have frequent contact with the fine men and women serving with Brownsburg's fire and police departments. Through them I have learned that their relationship with the other fire and police departments throughout Hendricks County is best defined as a family. These departments, from the chiefs on down, all share their personnel, experience, expertise, equipment, vehicles, training opportunities and facilities. Given the limits imposed by a weak economy and budget constraints which make sharing virtually mandatory, these departments would share anyway because the only thing that truly matters to these folks is making their individual communities and all of Hendricks County as safe as humanly possible. And they know the best way to accomplish that is by working together. Trust me - there's a lesson there.

These firefighters would almost certainly say the last part of this letter is unnecessary, but I'm going to do it anyway - give credit where credit is due, but is seldom given. These are the names of the firefighters on the scene that fateful day. Each one played a crucial role in the successful outcome. From Plainfield - Ray Bruner, Scott Klinger, Mark Peterson, Brandon Richardson, Dan Weathers, Corie Wise, and Brian Russell. From Danville - Scott Zickman, Chris Larkin, Neal Adamson, Troy Clements, and Keith Rinehart. And from Brownsburg - Bill Zeunik, Brandon Ford, Matt Johnson, and Todd Schindler. 

To all who were involved that day I say, job well done. And thanks.

Dave Richardson