SIDNEY — Although he was just 10 years old, Sidney Fire Lieutenant Jason Truesdale remembers the car his father was driving cresting a hill on the Dixie Highway and his family witnessing the explosion and subsequent inferno that took place on Dec. 25, 1983. He was on his way to his grandparent’s house to celebrate Christmas, a trip that was interrupted by the Mid-Valley Pipeline Fire.
“Dad continued up the highway to see how bad the fire was, then turned around and dropped us off before returning to help fight the fire. We didn’t see him again for seven days,” Truesdale recalled.
Truesdale’s career path was never in question.
“Firefighting is all I ever wanted to do,” Truesdale said. “It’s in my DNA. My father and uncle were both fire department captains. My older brother (Todd) is chief of the Shawnee Township Fire Department (Lima).”
Truesdale, who has been a member of the Sidney Fire Department for 19 years, was promoted on Jan. 11 to the rank of lieutenant. He will remain on the line until late June, when he will transition to Fire Prevention and Inspection.
By his own admission, it will be a transition. He’ll move from B-Crew and working 24 hour shifts to a 40-hour a week job with an office across the hall from Fire Chief Brad Jones and Deputy Fire Chief Cam Haller.
“I wasn’t expecting the promotion,” Truesdale said matter-of-factly. “I’ve taken the lieutenant’s test four times and have always done well. We simply don’t have that many openings, and even finishing second in the testing, the test usually expires before an opening occurs.”
Truesdale once missed being promoted by just one point, which considering the written test and the assessment center that are all part of the process, is similar to Martin Truex Jr. finishing second in the Daytona 500 by four inches. Still, he was undeterred, and his perseverance was rewarded.
“I’ve always wanted to make lieutenant,” Truesdale said. “It means a great deal to me. When the chief first told me, I was excited and yet, apprehensive. I asked myself if I was ready. Having spent 19 years as a firefighter, I thought a great deal about the transition. I really like line duty. I have always been concerned about the safety of my crew. The important thing is that we all return home to our families at the end of our shift.”
“Fire Prevention and Inspection will help make me a better, well-rounded individual,” Truesdale said. “It will allow me to get out in the community, work with kids in schools, and promote the mission of the Department.”
In addition to his regular duties, Truesdale has been commander of the Fire Department Honor Guard. He also is a member of the Technical Rescue Team, the Department’s Health and Safety Committee and the Department’s Training Committee.
Truesdale is also a teacher. In addition to teaching firefighting coursework within the department, he also teaches courses for Clark State Community College and Rescue Methods, a private firm. Trench, structural collapse and rope rescue are topics he has taught across the state.
What Truesdale enjoys best about his work is the camaraderie that develops among firefighters.
“The crew becomes a part of your family. Think of all the different people, different backgrounds, different ages – all coming together to form a team and get the mission completed.”
“Fortunately, there are not many days that are just so busy that you don’t even have time to think,” Truesdale stated. “But there are those days when you have 20 calls in a 24-hour shift. Sometimes we simply move out of our bedrooms and nap in the recliners until the next call comes in.”
Perhaps the busiest night ever was the night of Jan. 5-6, 2005, when an ice storm knocked out power across much of western Ohio.
“Homes were without power for anywhere from two to seven days,” Truesdale recalled. “Almost everyone had trees or tree limbs down in their yard. Some had roofs damaged by falling limbs or water in their basements after sump pumps lost power.
“We answered over 100 calls in one night. Everyone was dog-tired. We would occasionally be able to get back to the station for a cup of coffee before going out again – I don’t know anyone in the Department who was not running on caffeine. When we finally got off-duty, we organized crews to go to the homes of firefighters to help get the trees off their houses.
Truesdale was recently award the department’s Medal of Valor. It was the first time in the department’s storied history that the award had been presented. He received the award for his actions in a river rescue that nearly ended in disaster.
“On June 19, 2015, we responded to a mutual-aid call from the Lockington Fire Department,” Truesdale recalled. “A man who had been camping on an island in the middle of the river had become stranded after heavy rains had caused the river to rise. “Jake (Coverstone) and I were able to rescue the victim when the boat lost power. We were swept downriver where we hit the first strainer (branches in the river).
“I knew that the boat could capsize if everything didn’t go exactly right. Trying to keep those on board with me calm knowing that the outcome could result in all of our deaths was a challenge. But your training kicks in, and we survived the first strainer only to hit a second.
“We had lost communication and visual contact with those on shore,” Truesdale said. “I knew that if we were going to have any chance of surviving, we had to make contact with those on shore. I made the decision to swim to the island, where I knew the others would be able to see me. Despite the strong current, I somehow I managed to make it to the island.
“Jake continued to work on the boat’s motor, and finally was able to get it started again. He made it to the island before the motored died. Firefighter Scott Marchal managed to hurl a throw bag to me, and we were able to create a high line that would enable us to reach shore.
“When we were finally on shore, it was a tremendous relief. It was Father’s Day Weekend. My family had plans to go to Crooked Lake – and I had just about bit the dust. Throughout the ordeal, my primary concern had been for the victim and for Jake. Jake and his wife had just had a newborn son – a son who did not yet know his father. That was the reason I knew I had to be the one to swim to the island. If the worst happened, my kids knew me. Jake’s son deserved to have the opportunity to know his father.”
Of the hundreds of calls he’s answered, another that left a lasting impression on Truesdale was one involving a two-year old child. The child had a toy stuck in his airway, and was choking.
“When we arrived on scene, it was obvious that we needed to get the victim to the hospital as quickly as possible. Fortunately we were only a few blocks away.
“It seemed like when I had him suspended with his head down and was striking his back attempting to dislodge the toy, he could breathe. When I would turn him upright, he couldn’t. When we got inside the emergency room, the nurse had Magill forceps. As she opened his mouth, I was able to see a small, purple object in the back of his throat. Using the Magill forceps, I was able to remove it.
“Those are the kind of calls that stick with you,” Truesdale said. “Those kind of calls are the reason this work is so satisfying.”
In addition to the Medal of Valor, Truesdale has numerous letters of commendation in his file. He was named Firefighter of the Year in 2001. In 2002, he was honored by the American Legion as the Firefighter of the Year for the entire state.
“It’s nice to be honored,” Truesdale stated. “But the guys I work with deserve the credit. They mean the world to me. There is nothing that I have ever done that could have happened without them having my back.”
Truesdale also credits his wife, Stephanie, for her support of his career choice. “I couldn’t do it without her,” he said simply.
The Truesdale Family, including daughters Hallie, Cassidy and Gabby reside in Sidney.