Pursuing Service with the AFD

For one volunteer Auburn Fire Department (AFD) recruit, firefighting is in his blood. For another, volunteer firefighting just seemed like a natural extension of his life in public service. While different paths led Cody LaRowe and Will Ternet to pursue the AFD’s volunteer firefighter program, they share a common experience: It’s one of the most difficult yet rewarding choices they’ve ever made. And, now, both men are more than halfway to accomplishing their goal of becoming volunteer firefighters with the AFD.

Meet Cody LaRowe

During the day, Cody LaRowe works as a maintenance technician at Dana Corporation. A Marines Reservist, Cody grew up around the fire station. His father, AFD Captain Chip LaRowe, has worked there since 1989. Cody’s older brother also was a volunteer firefighter for 14 years.

“I guess you could say it’s the family business,” Cody says.

Meet Will Ternet

A probation officer for DeKalb County, Will Ternet has long thought about becoming a volunteer firefighter. He enjoys working in public safety and sees it as another way to serve the community. So, one day—just three weeks after he moved to Auburn from Fort Wayne—he drove past AFD Station 2 and decided to stop in and learn about the program.

Training is Rigorous

Cody and Will, the only Auburn fire recruits, are part of AFD’s latest volunteer firefighter recruitment class. The group is made up of other recruits from District 3, which includes 10 counties in northeast Indiana. They all started together in July and will graduate right before Christmas. The path from July to December is a rigorous one.

The AFD requires that volunteer firefighters be certified to state and national standards. Over the course of six months, training is divided into four modules. The current recruitment class has completed the first two modules on firefighting clothing and the breathing apparatus that firefighters wear. They’ve also learned how to safely climb and use ladders, cut a hole in the roof of a burning structure, deploy hose lines and extinguish fires, and survive a personal emergency while operating inside a burning structure. Additionally, they’ve learned how to identify, mitigate and prepare for hazardous materials incidents.

Both men admit the classwork and studying is challenging. “It can be tedious at times, but we have to know the material inside and out so it’s incredibly important,” Will explains.

Classes are two nights a week, for four hours each night. Then, they have hands-on skill sessions on Saturday mornings. It’s that training—in the “yard”—where the recruits get to put the studying into actual practice.

While both men knew there would be physical challenges, even they were surprised by the physicality of the job.

“I am trained as a marine and have experienced great physical challenges having served in Afghanistan,” says Cody. “And even I was surprised by how physically demanding it is to wear all the gear. You really have no concept of it until you do it.”

Reaching New Heights

The training can force recruits to face—and conquer—their fears. Ironically, Will doesn’t like heights. But, as he said, he “had to get over that!”

During one skills session that each recruit had to complete in under four minutes (3:50 to be exact), Will was lifted 75 feet up in the air in the ladder bucket, and then rotated 180 degrees while suspended that high.

“It took sheer willpower to endure it and be okay with it,” he says. “I had to if I wanted to be a firefighter.”

During the same exercise, they wore a 50 lb. vest, had to simulate forcible entry, drag a 150 lb. dummy 30 feet and carry a hose line pack up four stories and back down—again, all within the time of 3:50.

So far, the recruits have taken three certified written tests and two hands-on skill evaluation scenarios. Passing grades are required on all in order to keep working toward certification.

Real Work to Follow Certification

The end is in sight, though. After December, then that’s when the real work begins.

“Then it’s time to get to work,” Cody says. “We’re looking forward to it.”

We’ll continue to follow Cody and Will over the final months of their training. Stay tuned for more updates.