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Medal of Valor awarded to former Shelbyville firefighter

What started as a typical day flared up quickly a few months ago for former Shelbyville firefighter Adam Gaudin. He rescued a woman trapped inside a burning building.

The initial 911 call came in as a domestic disturbance on the east side of Indianapolis, but when the emergency crew arrived, flames were shooting from an apartment building. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) personnel on scene reported a person was trapped inside.

Within minutes, Gaudin faced the biggest challenge of his nine-year career in fighting fires and being a paramedic. The Shelbyville native pushed through intense heat and flames searching for the victim, pushing himself to keep looking despite knowing the intense heat was burning his skin. While it seemed to take forever, he rescued her in just four minutes.

She made a full recovery following that near fatal experience.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, along with Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) Chief Ernest Malonge, presented Gaudin with the IFD Medal of Valor on January 31 during the 28th Annual Indianapolis Fire Department Recognition Banquet at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in downtown Indianapolis. He was honored for his “professionalism, dedication and willingness to risk (his) own life in the face of extreme conditions to save another”, as written in the transcript from the event.

Seventeen other firefighters were listed in the banquet’s program as working at the scene of that two-alarm fire with Gaudin. Each received the IFD Professional Excellence honor for their “professionalism and dedication while performing under very difficult conditions.”

Thirty-year-old Gaudin, the son of Rick and Debbie Gaudin of Shelbyville, had high praise and respect for the crew he works with at Station 10, 2970 N. Sherman Ave., Indianapolis.

“Their my brothers and sisters. (Rescuing a victim) could have happened to any of us. I happened to be the lucky one,” he said. “I’m lucky and blessed that I could do my job. We don’t do this for the awards.”

“We’re very proud of him,” said Debbie Gaudin, who Adam said was a big influence on his career choice.

“Having a mom as a nurse and seeing her care for others and how compassionate she was helped me determine what I wanted to do,” he said.

On Feb. 23, Debbie will observe her 40th year as a registered nurse at Major Health Partners. Sixty-year-old Gaudin currently works in the MHP Oncology Department.

Her son has been a firefighter and paramedic in Indianapolis for four years. He started his training in Shelbyville in February 2011. Gaudin received his St. Francis paramedic training here and worked in the Shelbyville Fire Department through the summer of 2015.

“I enjoyed working for the hometown,” he said. “There are lots of medic calls in Shelbyville. I still keep in contact with many (firefighters) there.”

But, when the opportunity became available, Gaudin joined IFD and moved to Indianapolis. “It’s a larger department with a larger volume of calls and more to do.”

Gaudin, a 2008 graduate of Shelbyville High School, said the Station 10 crew responds to three to four runs a day never knowing what to expect.

“That’s the number one reason why fire and police arrive on scene, and why on medical runs you send the fire department,” he said. “That way there is a full complement of capable people on scene.”

Gaudin is part of a two-man team that includes an IMPD officer. They have the tools to break things to allow access into areas at emergency scenes with the sole purpose to search for life and get the victims out to safety.

He recalled the night of Nov. 23, 2019, when he rescued the woman from that burning apartment building on the east side of Indianapolis:

“Fire was blowing out both sides of the building and there was smoke. We pulled up initially to the east side of the building.”

Gaudin worked his way through the interior of the building to get to the west side of the building.

“A second floor apartment was on fire and it was leading up to the third floor,” he said. “Residents were yelling for someone who was on the third floor. We always assume there’s entrapment no matter what even if someone tells us everyone’s out.”

Gaudin said he pushed past the “intense” fire on the second floor to get to the third floor to see if he could get to the apartment where there may have been a victim. “The third floor was on fire, but not as severe as the second floor.”

He ran back down to the second floor to tell the water crew to act as quickly as possible to get water to the third floor because communication by radio was difficult. When he returned to the third floor, the fire was worse. Flames surrounded the doorframe to the apartment he was heading toward.

“I got into the living room and felt myself burning.” There was indirect radiant heat coming from all directions. “There was fire above at the ceiling and the carpet was on fire. I could see in the fire because it was free burning. I kept pushing through. I kept telling myself ‘Adam, you can find her. Keep pushing. You can do it.’ Knowing a lady was entrapped kept pushing me. I was willing to take that risk.”

There was thick smoke when he got to the bedroom. He could see nothing. His protective facemask had melted and the severe heat had compromised his fireproof clothing. He was searching through the room and across the bed with a feel and touch method while crawling. There was no body. Gaudin heard another crew put a ladder up on the outside of the apartment and felt water spray in through the window.

“I felt a door, an inward swinging door, so I knew it wasn’t a closet. It had to be another room. The handle was locked, so with tools I broke through. It was a bathroom. I felt the toilet, a sink, and when I felt the bathtub, I reached inside and felt a body.”

She was unconscious and lifeless, he said. Gaudin pulled her out of the tub, took her through the hallway and back into the bedroom where additional firefighters had arrived and helped to take her through the window and down the ladder to safety and into an ambulance to be taken to Eskenazi Hospital. She survived.

Gaudin said he went back through the apartment to ensure no one else was there. When he was finished with the search, he said he was physically drained. “When you’re exposed to that heat, it zaps your strength away and dehydrates you.”

The intensity of the radiant heat caused second degree burns on both of Gaudin’s shoulders, both of his ears, and his neck. He remained off work for about a month to heal.

“I was chomping at the bit to get back to work,” he said. “There’s only so much Netflix you can watch.”

When it was time, Gaudin said he had no second thoughts about returning to duty.

“I love my job, every aspect of it. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. The risk of injury will not hold a firefighter back,” he said.

“It’s expected. It’s never a deterrence to do it.”

While confident to meet any situation because of the training received when on and off the job to keep their proficiencies up, Gaudin said all firefighters still face fear.

“It’s a matter of controlling and respecting that fear, and being aware of the conditions,” he said. “It’s a respect for the fear rather than being intimidated by it. How do you get that? Through training.”

Of course, when on the scenes of emergencies, “you get a huge adrenalin rush. That usually keeps you going.”

Now fully recovered from his injuries, Gaudin said he’s doing great.

“I’m eager to go to work every day,” he said. “I’m enjoying life right now. Everything’s good.”

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