Michiana mourns fallen firefighter

By: Tricia Harte, Shaun Gallagher Email
By: Tricia Harte, Shaun Gallagher Email
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Jamie Middlebrook

Michiana is paying its respects to the family and friends of a firefighter tragically killed in a blaze August 5.

Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Middlebrook died in the line of duty four days after his 41st birthday.

Monday funeral

Firefighters, friends and family gathered for Middlebrook's funeral at Bethel College Monday morning.

Beginning at 11 a.m., hundreds filed by the casket in Everest Rohrer Chapel.

"Jamie was passionate about life," New Carlisle United Methodist Pastor Kalvin Morrison said during the service. "Having been a cancer survivor, he knew how precious life was, and he lived it to his fullest. With passion he accomplished that which he set out to do."

Sen. Joe Donnelly spoke next.

"He gave his life for the people of New Carlisle, for the people of Indiana and the people of this community. He will always be on call in our heart… and he will always be our hero," Donnelly said.

John Hill, representing Governor Pence's office, said, "Jamie protected us in this area of the state, he defended us, he watched out for his community. And he made us all stronger by his service. His community trusted him."

"He showed me how to be strong, be brave, and be there in somebody's time of need," New Carlisle Fire Chief Josh Schweizer explained. "His time of need is now. We stand here with our thoughts and prayers over Jamie. We show him how much we love him, how much we'll continue to love him, and how much we will miss him.

"Julie, Bob, Carole: I'd like to thank you for sharing Jamie with us," Schweizer told the family, trying to hold back tears. "He was a huge part of your life, and a huge part of mine."

Procession, 'final call' and burial

Emergency vehicles escorted Middlebrook's casket the 23 miles from Bethel College to New Carlisle Cemetery.

Once the procession reached the New Carlisle Fire Department, dispatchers called out for Middlebrook over the radio just as they would in an emergency. But there's a touching moment of silence and static with no response and then they radio once more, "this is your last call."

It's at this point where firefighters got on foot to escort Middlebrook to the cemetery. A firefighter holding Middlebrook's helmet slowly walking in front of the New Carlisle truck carrying his casket.

The route took them beneath a large garrison flag on Filbert, under which only the funeral procession could pass.

Then between two fire trucks from New Carlisle and South Bend, both of which were on scene the night of middlebrook's death. Then the trucks cross their extended ladders as another touching element.

Hundreds lined the sidewalks with signs and flags for the final send off from a grateful small town.

“Everybody knows we're small knit,” Rachel Lockwood said, “we grow up together, our kids grow up together, it's sad.”

“Very touching and so sad that such a young life was lost,” family friend Michelle Hall said, “and we just feel so deeply sad for the family and the dedication of all the firefighters that came through. It was amazing, from all the different towns, we didn’t realize there would be so many firefighters coming all the way from Valparaiso.”

As soon as the procession passed through downtown the sidewalks cleared, but hundreds walked alongside Middlebrook's casket on the way to the cemetary so he was never left alone.

The sounds of bagpipes filled the air as a pipe and drum band led Middlebrook to his final resting place.

After the last call, engine 91 carried Middlebrook to his final resting place in New Carlisle cemetery.

Firemen honored him by ringing the bell used to call firemen to duty. The bell rings three rounds of five, to symbolize the end of Middlebrook's call to duty.

Then they folded the flag draped over Middlebrook's coffin and gave it to his wife, along with his helmet - the helmet he wore to protect himself, while protecting the community of New Carlisle.

Everyone in attendance placed a white carnation with a red dot on his casket, the white symbolic of a good life and career and the red dot for a life lost.

“No matter what their resources are, no matter how big or small their department is, proper honor is given to a hero,” Scott McDaniel, Fraternal Order of Police critical incident memorial team officer, said.

There were some fears the weather would prevent the med flight helicopter flyover at the end of the ceremony, but the skies cleared up well before everyone arrived and it was a fantastic tribute to a great hero.

Sunday visitiatioin

Visitation was held Sunday for New Carlisle Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Middlebrook.

The visitation began with an honor guard of firefighters presenting a folded American flag and note of appreciation to Middlebrook’s memorial.

The former assistant chief has been accompanied 24/7 since his death Tuesday night, an honor owed to every fallen firefighter or police officer.

"It's an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to be on the honor guard," Brian Linson, Captain of the Mishawaka Fire Department said. "We're all one big brotherhood. The best we can do is the least we can do."

Middlebrook's family had an hour to say goodbye in private before friends and fellow servicemen lined the halls of Bethel College to pay their respects.

New Carlisle Fire Chief Josh Schweizer ended the ceremony with a few words of thanks to Jamie.

“Assistant Chief Jamie Middlebrook bravely stood his post for over 20 years representing what's best in society," Schweizer said. "Going into places that the average person fears to tread, seeing things that no one wants to see by simply responding to all calls out and leaving his department, Jamie made this country a better place to live.”

The lines outside of Bethel College's Everest-Rohrer Chapel and Fine Arts Center extended down the sidewalk and stayed that way for several hours. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski was in attendance and fought back tears while expressing her compassion.

"The words are so few," Walorski said. "She's lost her husband and the parents have lost their son. You just can't take it away. You just have to stand their and hug them. We're a resilient community and I'm thankful for the people who protect our places. It's hard to say, words don't seem to be enough on a day like today to say thank you."
The firefighter brotherhood is something we've all heard of, but during tragedies like this is when it truly shines.

"We're all brothers in arms," Michael Grzegorek, St. Joseph County Sheriff said. "Whether it's a firefighter, EMT or a policeman, we come together to show our respects for our fallen brothers and family."

"The brotherhood is so good," Randy Denton, Captain of the Rensselaer Fire Department said. "Firefighting is so dangerous and when you lose a brother it's heartbreaking. You don't know when your last day is. You get up and leave the table and you don't know if you're coming back home or not."

"It's a strong brotherhood because your lives depend on each other," Vail O'Connor, retired firefighter from Massachusetts said. "Every time you go to work you're putting your life in the hands of your buddies."

Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m. at Bethel College Monday morning, followed by a 23 mile procession from Mishawaka to New Carlisle.

The exact route for the procession has been mapped out here: www.google.com/maps/....

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