Veteran firefighter, medic and instructor Doug Lutes is nearing the completion of his second month as Fire Chief of one of the youngest iterations ever of the Shelbyville Fire Department (SFD).
The department is in the process of hiring its 14th person in the last 12 months. Many of those openings created by the retirement of veteran personnel.
“A lot of people that left had 20 to 35 years of experience and training and leadership,” said Jay Tennell (main photo, right), SFD Deputy Director, who deals with the fire side of operations. “A lot of them stepped out of supervisory leadership roles. Now you don’t have the long-time experience in people that know all these buildings and all these streets watching over our group.
“So there is training at every level that has had to take place these past couple of years. You have to identify who is going into that next spot. You’ve got a wave of experienced firemen that lead well going into a Battalion Chief role, a Captain’s role or a Lieutenant’s role. Everybody is learning a new job while we’ve got 10 to 15 brand new people (on the job).”
Lutes (main photo, center), who retired in February of 2023 after 25 years as a firefighter and medic, filled every role in the department during his career except the top role.
“This was never really one of my notches on my belt to sit in this seat,” said Lutes from his new office at the downtown firehouse. “It wasn’t anything I was striving for my whole career. I’ve seen guys come in and out of this office and they get pretty disheveled by the end of it. It is one of those thankless jobs where you have to make a lot of decisions.”
While Lutes walked away from the day-to-day workings of the fire department, he continued his fire and medic instructor role at Shelbyville’s Blue River Career Center. For a little over a decade, Lutes introduced fire and medic careers to Shelby County youth.
“I enjoyed it. It took me a minute to navigate a few things,” said Lutes. “I was doing the teacher side of stuff, then they would take the state test. Not every kid passed the state test. I had about an 80% pass rate totally for all the kids, which is pretty good at that level. It’s an adult class. I treated them like they were adults.”
While Lutes had to pass his teaching duties off to a pair of new instructors to become fire chief, his experiences in the classroom provides him keen insight into an area of recruitment that could help the department build from within its community.
“One of my goals is recruitment and retention,” he said. “To me, that is one of the biggest things we’ve got to do. Hire someone new, train someone new, outfitting someone new. … We are spending too much time doing that. That’s why I want a little more local (recruitment) so it keeps people here.”
Before accepting new mayor Scott Furgeson’s offer to become fire chief and replace the retiring Brian Tackett, Lutes had to assess if he wanted to return to the firehouse setting five days a week.
“Scott and I chatted in years past about some things,” explained Lutes. “I decided I did want to jump back in. I know this business. I like these people. It’s fun. And I get to sleep in my own bed now. That’s the key.”
Tennell was already in place as a deputy chief and Lutes promoted Matt Stone to Deputy Chief of EMS.
One of Stone’s first assignments was to implement a new 10-year contract with Stryker to modernize the department’s EMS equipment, including eight new cardiac monitors.
“The Stryker contract is all signed, sealed and delivered,” confirmed Stone (main photo, left). “All the equipment is in and in service. We just took the last step on getting the cardiac monitors put into service.
“One of the things talked about a lot (with the $2.7 million contract), Stryker is far above and beyond any other provider of these services. These guys want their stuff to work more than we do. … They are very good to work with. We were in a position where it was kind of day-to-day on some of the devices we had in service, whether they would make it through the day. We are in a much better position. Our patients are in a much better situation.”
Again, Lutes experience as an educator could prove beneficial to Stone when it comes to finding certified personnel to staff ambulances.
“Blue River (Career Program) had an EMT program but they let that go,” said Lutes. “I didn’t want to teach it. It is a lot of paperwork on the state side and testing.”
Lutes did eventually restart the program and hopes it can grow to be a talent recruiter for a department that counted 76% of its 2023 runs as “medical.”
“You have to be cross trained (as a medic and firefighter) in the fire service,” said Lutes. “You don’t have to be, that’s not true, but for Shelbyville you need to be cross trained. We run a whole county with an ambulance and that’s a whole other issue. Our medics fight fires. It’s what we do. In this community, you have to be cross trained. Our goal is to get that program going again.”
Lutes also wants to identify individuals, especially those in Shelby County, looking for a career change.
“We are getting younger and younger but there are a lot of people out there in their mid 20s that might want a career change and would be good at this job,” said Lutes, who joined the SFD after turning 30. “My goal is to give them a chance. You can get hired up to (age) 40 now. That used to be 36. The trend right now, we’ve lowered our (hiring) age to 20. We have 20-year-olds we hire.
“There are still a lot of good people that would stay in the community and we can train them the way we want them.”
If Lutes can get qualified candidates in the door and through the stringent hiring process, he trusts Tennell and Stone to get them prepared to go out on calls.
“I think the transition has been good because they guys (Tennell and Stone) have done a good job,” said Lutes. “I know their job. Those guys do a good job.
“I’m not a fireman anymore. I just let the firemen be firemen and do their jobs.”
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