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May 14

Fighting Fire With Community Engagement

Posted on May 14, 2021 at 9:08 AM by Shelby Abner

What do a former zookeeper and current beekeeper have in common? Both serve with the Brownsburg Fire Territory.

Fire Marshal Steve Jones and Deputy Fire Marshal Paul Hudson are responsible for ensuring more than 800 businesses (including schools and daycares) meet fire codes. In fact, the Fire Marshal’s office works closely with Development Services to review all development plans for new buildings including residential housing to ensure compliance. But that’s just one part of their jobs.

Their focus is on Community Risk Reduction, a far more expansive role than the traditional fire safety one.

The two are frequently out in the community sharing tips from how to avoid falls and trip hazards to ways to dispose of flammable materials properly. Thanks to a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, the team has a new trailer and inflatable tent that can hold multiple people and activities while providing ADA accessibility to share their messaging. Their goal is to promote a healthier and safer Brownsburg.

“I like to get to know people in the community,” said Steve. “Through this job, I get to know people on a personal level and friendships get molded over time.” 

A career firefighter, Steve joined the BFT from Pike Township Fire in 2013 as a part-time employee. 

He transitioned to full-time in 2017.

Paul left a truly wild job at the Indianapolis Zoo to join BFT in 2003. He was named deputy fire marshal last fall.

While their backgrounds are different, the men agree that their job is to help people make good decisions so they never have to meet a firefighter.

“As a firefighter, you’re so used to showing up on what could be the worst day of someone’s life,” said Paul. 

"Through this job, we get to interact in a positive way and have fun with people. Much of our work is convincing people that it’s up to them to keep themselves safe, and it’s our job to help them know how to be safe.”

Sometimes, visiting with community members has a far deeper meaning, especially during COVID-19.

“When I’m at a nursing home, I visit with the residents,” said Steve. “They may not have seen family or anyone other than staff for a year.”

Another facet of their job is performing investigations to determine the cause and development of a fire.  While arsons are a rare occurrence in Brownsburg (one or two incidents per year), sometimes a fire investigation leads to an arrest. 

“If I’m working with a juvenile fire starter, I need to work with the family to know what may have led to this behavior,” said Steve. “Is the juvenile angry or found a lighter and is exploring? Many problems arise out of financial stress. Our job is to help the family find resources like counseling.”

So what does it take to be a fire marshal?

“You need to be able to communicate with people of all backgrounds. This job takes people skills,” said Steve. “It’s more than checking boxes. To be effective, you need to get out from behind the desk.”