TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute firefighter Brad Doan heard people screaming and saw a lady hanging out of a sixth-floor window on the May 2012 day that he and the crew of Engine 7 arrived at Garfield Towers.
Other residents on the sixth floor were also in distress from the heavy smoke and heat that reduced visibility, after a suspected arsonist set fire to a piece of furniture in a common area.
Captain Doan was among the first firefighters on the scene, and his efforts and leadership on that day has earned him the John Osterloo Firefighter of the Year Award from the Breakfast Optimist Club, which presented the honor Thursday morning.
Doan was also one of THFD members selected earlier this year as the department’s Firefighter of the Year, along with firefighter Jim Likens, who was recently honored again by the Exchange Club of Terre Haute. Both men rescued people from the Garfield Towers fire.
THFD Fire Chief Jeff Fisher said that Doan rescued at least three people on the smoke-filled day at Garfield Towers. One person later died.
“Captain Doan could have gotten in trouble that day,” Fisher explained, noting that Doan ran up and down the stairway wearing his heavy turnout gear to get to bring multiple residents to safety. “It was full of smoke, but he did his job, and so did others.”
Doan has been with the department more than 23 years. He has served as deputy chief and battalion chief, and is currently president of the local firefighters union.
“It’s hard to accept an individual award,” Doan said after receiving the large plaque. “That fire took a team effort. … to get singled out, your peers put you in for this, it’s humbling. I guess it’s a little uncomfortable because, like I said, it’s just part of being a team effort.”
Visibility was zero inside the dark, smoke-filled building, Doan said. He could hear people calling for help, and he knew his comrades were running out of air in their tanks, but they kept on task.
“There’s 14 or 15 people alive today that without the bravery of the firefighters, they wouldn’t be here today,” Doan said. “Firefighters were running out of air. It was so bad because we couldn’t see. With the conditions, there were several people who risked their lives.”
He uplifted the effort of everyone who helped on the rescue efforts.
“It wasn’t that Brad Doan saved the day that day,” he emphasized. “It was the Terre Haute Fire Department who saved the day that day.”
He thanked members of the Breakfast Optimist Club for presenting the annual award.
“It’s an honor for me and my family,” he said. He was accompanied to the breakfast meeting by his wife, Marsha.
The award is named for a firefighter who lost his life from a downtown department store fire in December 1898. That fire started in a Christmas decoration display, and spread quickly to destroy the building. Osterloo was a captain who led a team into an adjacent building. A building wall collapsed on him, trapping him in debris and fire. Osterloo was rescued but died nine days later from blood poisoning.
“That story illustrates how dangerous our job is,” Fisher said. “Nobody needs us until they are having a bad day.”
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.