TERRE HAUTE —
Big red trucks and blaring sirens always held a special appeal for Jason Kame.
“I always wanted to be a fireman. I was one of those kids that always knew what I wanted to do,” he said inside the Terre Haute Fire Department’s Headquarters Station at First and Spruce streets.
Now a lieutenant with 13 years with the department, the 36-year-old husband and father of three said the calling still holds fast, even with the sprains, strains and bruises that go along with it.
As he was interviewed, Kame was still on light duty due to a herniated disc suffered while fighting a fire in early June. It was the second time around for that type of injury, but he said he was looking forward to being back on a truck by early September.
“You can’t come here and think about getting hurt every day,” he said, noting his role on the team is often to rip the roof or walls apart during a fire to ventilate the structure. Nationally, hundreds of firefighters die each year, with another 100,000 injured. In the 13 years he’s been on the job, more than a million firefighters have been hurt in the line of duty, he said.
And that was on his mind 10 years ago, the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, during the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C.
Kame, like most firefighters at the department, started his career there as a paramedic attached to the ambulance units. He’d been on the city’s northside late the night before 9/11 in response to a stabbing, and was sleeping in that Tuesday morning when his mother-in-law called to tell him the nation was under attack. Still a little groggy, he and his wife turned on the television and quickly obsessed with the coverage, he recalled. Watching the buildings fall and the media-generated timelines, he heard the sound of fighter jets rumble overhead.
All those people, and all those firefighters, dead, he recalled thinking with despair.
But the dangers never dissuaded him.
Kame recalled that his grandfather and uncle both served on what was then the St. Mary’s Volunteer Fire Department. On Sunday afternoons, they’d let him come and hang out, learning about the equipment while listening to “war stories,” he said.
Kame graduated from West Vigo High School and attended Indiana State University for a while, but as that institution didn’t have a fire science program, he ended up leaving and volunteering with the St. Mary’s Volunteer Fire Department while working with what was then the Rural Metro Ambulance Service.
The St. Mary’s Volunteer Fire Department eventually merged into what is now Sugar Creek Volunteer Fire Department. But by then, Kame had gotten onto the Terre Haute Fire Department as a paid firefighter and spent the first three years as a paramedic before moving to Ladder Company 5, where he remains today.
“The fire house is a home away from home,” he said, describing the lifestyle of the job, which schedules its workers on 24-hour shifts, staggered around 48 hours off. While at the station, the firefighters live, eat and sleep in communal settings. “Each house is just one big, happy, dysfunctional family.”
That lifestyle and sense of family is a big draw, as is working with the equipment, and most people get hooked early, he said. The group with whom he spent his first few years at St. Mary’s Volunteer Fire Department remains tight, Kame said, even though some are scattered around the state.
“I guess that was our college, since they don’t have a fire science program at ISU,” he chuckled.
Young people interested in the fire department service should get all the education they can, particularly in the medical field, Kame said. Joining a volunteer department is a great way to get experience and learn about the equipment, he added.
And, in the end, if the siren’s call beckons a young person, he or she might as well jump aboard and get that experience. Decades after hanging out with his grandfather, Kame is still “one of those kids.”