ST. LEON – During National Fire Prevention Week, St. Leon Fire Chief Don Schuman reflects on how being a rescuer is in his blood.

Through “a lot of hard work,” his dad, Walter, helped establish the department in the mid-1960s. Don Schuman can remember helping to construct the firehouse in 1969 when he was very young.

He became a firefighter there in 1977, right after high school, “mainly because they needed the help.”

Fortunately for residents of this fire district, which extends about a mile into Franklin County and two miles south of the town, “really, we haven’t had a big fire for a long time.” The most recent scare occurred last spring when a gas line ruptured during construction at East Central High School while students were there.

“They had to evacuate the school,” the chief remembers. He could see flames coming out of a hole dug with a backhoe far away from the building. “It took the gas company awhile to get there and get it shut off,” so volunteers stood by in case the fire spread.

The 47-year-old has felt close to danger “quite a few times. When you go into a burning building or even a simple thing like a vehicle accident on the interstate,” rushing traffic can be hazardous. In fact, the images that stick with Schuman are viewing the suffering accident victims endured before and during removal from vehicles.

Even with a lack of fires, St. Leon Volunteer Fire Department members are busy. “We have a lot of first responder runs,” providing medical help. “We do patient care until the life squad arrives.”

To prevent blazes, he cautions citizens to “use common sense when it comes to burning trash or leaves.” Better yet, “don’t do that at all because it’s not good for the environment.”

The 12-year chief admits that the job of overseeing 24 firefighters, including five women, can be stressful at times. His main duty is to see that the members are trained and “they know their equipment.” That happens during three trainings each month, two on Monday evenings and one on a Sunday morning. Schuman keeps up to date at quarterly fire chief meetings.

He says the firefighters feel a closeness. Friendships develop during the trainings and the annual department Christmas party. Of the members, he notes, “Every one’s different,” with an age range from 18 to 77 – his dad.

The chief is hunting for more dedicated volunteers. Interested persons may reach Don Schuman at (812) 576-3336.

SLVFD is funded mostly by a firemen’s fest that takes place on the first Friday and Saturday in August. He points out that not just firefighters and their spouses pitch in to prepare for the major moneymaker. Many area residents work hard for the week leading up to the event. “In addition to the members, the community makes this firehouse.”

When he’s not wearing his chief’s hat, the St. Leon native works at Schuman’s Garage, founded by grandfather Joseph Schuman as an International Harvester dealership in the early 1900s. Today he is part owner with two brothers, Ron and Mike. His parents, Walter and Mary, help in the office. The clan also works together on the family farm.

The rescuing legacy may continue. His son, Matthew, 9, talks about being a firefighter someday.

The Schumans, including wife Mary, enjoy camping at various state parks and going to Matthew’s baseball games.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at (812) 934-4343, Ext. 113; The Herald-Tribune, P.O. Box 89, Batesville, IN 47006; or debbie.blank@cnhimedia.com.

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