Brent Anderson Takes Over as New Plainfield Fire Territory Chief
Brent Anderson, Plainfield Fire Territory’s new chief, knew he wanted a career in firefighting when he was only 15 years old. Between hanging out with his brother, who volunteered at the local fire department, and chasing fire trucks with his dad as a hobby, his interest was piqued early and he was hooked.
However, at that time no one could work as a career firefighter until the age of 21, so he took some business classes after high school.
That only lasted one semester.
“I thought it would be something to fall back on, but I kept thinking, ‘Why am I here?’” Anderson says. “Then I tried a fire science program at Ivy Tech, but since I already knew so much from being a volunteer firefighter, I again sat there thinking, ‘Why am I here?’ I took odd jobs until I got hired at the age of 22 here in Plainfield. It’s the only career fire department job I’ve ever had.”
Anderson’s career has been a consistent progression since he was a teenager. He started by volunteering at the Liberty Township Fire Department in Clayton, then worked part time at the Danville Fire Department, and finally landed at Plainfield, where he’s been for 18 years. He progressed from firefighter to lieutenant to assistant chief, and finally to fire chief in June of this year.
Anderson grew up in Hendricks County, graduating from Cascade High School in Clayton in 1998. He’s never left, and doesn’t intend to.
“There are a lot of good people here wanting to do good things,” Anderson says. “I’m the 11th fire chief in 100 years here. I’d say I have at least another 15 years here myself.”
Anderson’s top priorities as fire chief are community outreach, communication and budget management. He handles much of the communication between the fire department staff, the town leadership, the Town Council and the public.
One of Anderson’s favorite parts about his job is education. While the fire department does a lot to educate children in the community about fire and safety, Anderson has also found it truly rewarding to educate adults on what the fire department does.
“I get excited when I talk to adults because you see their wheels turning and you get questions back,” Anderson says. “It’s better to educate the public on what we do, how much water the fire truck carries, what different things cost and things like that.”
Anderson emphasizes that while many who join the ranks of firefighting want to simply fight fires, there is often an overwhelming amount of work firefighters do that has nothing to do with fires.
“We are a jack of all trades,” Anderson says of the fire department. “We get 6,000 calls a year, and 65 to 70% of them are EMS. When you call 911 and they don’t know what to do, they’ll send us. We keep up on fire stuff, EMS stuff, rope rescues, confined-space rescues, water rescues and trench rescues. We get ducks out of storm drains and yes, we do get cats out of trees a couple times a year. I’d like to think we make things better.”
Anderson says one of the most unusual calls he ever received was from a father who was playing hide-and-seek with his children. The father squeezed himself into a narrow cabinet above his microwave and got stuck. The fire department had to cut up the cabinets to get the man get out.
“We have some funny stories and also some really disgusting stories,” Anderson says. “We’ve seen it all.”
Anderson also devotes time and energy toward other avenues of work, such as Indiana Task Force One, where he’s been a member for more than 10 years. The group is comprised of emergency responders from Indiana and is part of FEMA, trained to respond to local and national emergencies including natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
Anderson’s last deployment with Indiana Task Force One was for Hurricane Florence in September of 2018. He was deployed to Wilmington, North Carolina, to help with evacuation. He says the experience was one of the most intense nights of his life.
“We performed 25 water rescues in one night,” Anderson says.
There were 80 emergency responders broken up into squads of 12, and Anderson’s squad performed water rescues, evacuating families from their homes in flood conditions during the night.
“There were whole families, moving water, complete darkness, and tornadoes not too far off,” Anderson says. “It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Anderson’s leadership training in emergencies and crises is coming in handy as he leads his firefighters through the current global pandemic. He has always accepted that life brings many challenges, and COVID-19 is no different.
“It definitely slowed everything down,” Anderson says. “We are very purpose and safety driven now, more than ever. Communication is also a challenge now that everything is virtual or by email. It takes that personal interaction out of it.”
Anderson says it’s tough to teach firefighting skills while wearing a mask or social distancing, but the department is getting it done.
“We are planning for the future,” Anderson says. “We are well prepared for a second wave of COVID. We learned everything the first time around.”
Anderson is married with a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. He coaches his daughter’s travel softball team, which keeps him very busy outside of the fire station. His family loves sports, and they are fans of the Indiana Pacers and the New York Yankees. The pandemic has derailed some of their plans to attend games, but it has afforded them a lot of time together at home.
Anderson is also a licensed Indiana High School Athletic Association basketball official, and can be found in a local gym on weekends during basketball season officiating a youth game. He has participated as an official for more than 20 years and enjoys it immensely.
A graduate of the 2013 Leadership Hendricks County class, Anderson still gives time and energy to the program. Every year he leads a presentation on fire service in Hendricks County. He also currently serves with the Danville Fire Department as a paid, on-call member.
“I just want to help my community in any aspect that I can,” Anderson says.
As Plainfield grows and changes, Anderson is committed to keeping his finger on the pulse of the community’s needs.
“Society and everything else changes so fast,” Anderson says. “We are constantly trying to keep up with what might come next, whether that’s adding more residential neighborhoods or considering more development in the town. We are keeping up with how fast the environment is changing here in Plainfield.”