HANCOCK COUNTY — They only get a call during dire situations, but it’s a call they always answer. From the Sept. 11, 2021 tragedy in New York City to the Surfside condominium collapse in Miami last year, Indiana Task Force 1 is always ready to serve.
Over two dozen first responders, who work in Hancock County at various fire departments or are residents in Hancock County but work outside of the area, are members of Indiana Task Force 1, an 80-person rescue team.
The Task Force members say it’s an honor to serve on the federal rescue team, a force composed of personnel from 32 different agencies in the state and is one of 28 elite rescue teams across the nation.
Indiana Task Force 1 members have to drop local work, sometimes on short notice, leaving life and families behind to rush to the rescue whenever catastrophic events occur in the United States. They then return to their normal lives having to process what they’ve seen, often tragic events, and continue on with the task at hand as local first responders.
It’s been a few weeks since members of Indiana Task Force 1 returned home from rendering aid during the historic flooding in eastern Kentucky in late July and early August. It was a hard deployment, Indiana Task Force 1 members said. State crews worked to rescue stranded people and animals, searched hundreds of structures and recovered those who perished during the unprecedented flooding disaster.
“It’s very devastating. They have lost everything — cars, homes, all their personal belongings,” said Jay Settergren, leader of Indiana Task Force 1 at the time of deployment. “The pictures don’t do it justice. When you see it in real life, you also see the effect on the folks that live here.”
While most people will never have to put themselves in harm’s way heading to devastated areas, the county first responders who are members of the Indiana Task Force 1 are a different breed. They’re eager to serve.
“It’s all about the mindset when you head into these types of deployments,” Settergren said. “You’ve got to be a ‘Type-A,’ hands-on person or you can’t be a part of this team.”
Settergren, 56, is an Eastern Hancock County resident who has worked as a career firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department for 33 years. He joined Task Force 1 in 1996 and quickly rose through the ranks to the become the training coordinator and leader for the team.
“Being on the team is a lot like being at a firehouse, but it’s for an extended stay because we’re the ones called when all the local assets are already being used and they need more help and then we’re on duty for a while,” Settergren said.
Sugar Creek Township Fire Department Chief Brandon Kleine is also part of the leadership team for Indiana Task Force 1. He’s a highly trained safety officer whose job is to look after the 80-person Task Force 1 team when deployed.
“We want to make sure that the 80 people who we take out on deployment come back in the same condition as we were in when we left,” Kleine said.
Kleine, joined the elite team of first responders in 2008 and went into a leadership role in 2012 after working his way through the different sections of Task Force 1, which include logistics, medical, hazmat, technical search, technical information, rescue, communications, canine and structural specialists.
“We are a highly trained, technical task force,” Kleine said. “That really is the best way to describe us and, yes, we take a lot of pride in what we do and in representing the county.”
Kleine, along with James Wolsiffer, Tony Bractcher, Jeff Keithley, Adam Schock and Kenny Gulley, are all Task Force 1 members from Sugar Creek Township Fire Department. Kleine said they and other team members must be mission-oriented when deployed.
“You have to have your head on a swivel once a deployment starts,” Kleine said.
That approach was needed in Miami during the condo collapse last year when both Settergren and Kleine were each deployed for more than two weeks. They worked with crews moving massive amounts of concrete overhead while Indiana Task Force-1 team members worked to recover bodies underneath, all without flinching.
“What we saw and the work we did in Miami, it will stick with me for the rest of my life,” Klein said. “That’s probably the toughest deployment I’ve had yet.”
“Miami is the one place we’ve been that took more, longer than normal to feel like myself when we got back,” Settergren said. “It probably took about three months before I felt physically right.”
Indiana Task Force-1 went to Miami to be part of a rescue mission that turned into a recovery mission where they helped recover nearly 100 bodies. Due to the work they did in Miami, both Settergren and Kleine are in a case study, being tested for heavy metals due to working in the debris.
“We’re going to find out that deployment in Florida is going to have some health consequences,” Settergren said. “We have to send toenail clippings once every four months in for testing.”
The Task Force-1 members note, should any medical issues arise, the federal government will be the one to pay for any care needed.
“We looked at it as a honorable mission to return people to their loved one,” Kleine said of the work in Miami.
Both men noted the team is part of a national program under the jurisdiction of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which takes good care of Indiana Task Force 1 members. They make sure each member goes through a medical examination upon return from a deployment and gets a few days off before heading back to local work.
“Usually we are traveling a good distance on these deployments, so we get that ride back time to decompress and process everything,” Settergren said. “We also talk to each other and that really helps.”
Both men say when they return from a deployment their family members, who are always understanding, help them get reacclimated. Both men live on farms and acknowledge the time spent outdoors, with family, and everyday life helps them relax and reengage after harrowing deployments.
“Most of us are family oriented anyway because that is what being in the fire service is all about,” Kleine said. “Once I’m with my family, I really don’t think about everything else.”
Overall, the county members who are part of Indiana Task Force-1 say it’s an honor to serve the community at a national level.
“I’d say being on the team is one of the biggest accomplishments of my career, just being a part of the Task Force,” Kleine said.
Settergren calls being a firefighter the “best job” and being part of Task Force 1 the true highlight of his career.
“Being a part of this team is the greatest part of the end of my firefighting career, being the No. 2 guy in charge on this team is a honor,” Settergren said. “It’s all the hard work you put in. It really pays off.”
Settergren, who is in charge of training, noted all team members are humble, hard-working and very capable people who are the best in the field.
“We’ve got fire chiefs, trauma doctors, structural engineers, but they are just people who want to get the job done when they come through the door,” Settergren said. “We’ve got some of the best people in the state on this team.”
When Settergren gets to the point of retirement from IFD, he plans to remain active and continue to work with Task Force 1 since they don’t have a retirement limit until age 70. It’s the same for Kleine, who plans to work with SCTFD until retirement and remain active with Task Force-1 beyond that.
Settergren, who has been on 15 deployments, and Kleine, who has been on nine, will head to Israel at the end of October to train with Israel Home Front Command if the assignment is approved, which is expected.
“We did it before once in 2016, and we’re looking forward to doing it again,” Settergren said. “It really is a hard but rewarding job.”
Locally, the Task Force has responded to Lafayette, Evansville, Henryville and Indianapolis for tornado events.
“Wherever people need us, we’re ready to go,” Kleine said.
What is Indiana Task Force 1?
Indiana Task Force 1 (IN-TF1) is one of 28 highly trained Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sponsored Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams in the United States. The Task Force, in existence since 1992, has grown into an elite team capable of deploying anywhere in the continental United States with excellent equipment and highly trained search and rescue personnel.
Indiana Task Force 1 members who live in Hancock County
Andy Trittipo, Charlottesville, Logistic Specialist
Brandon Carr, New Palestine, Rescue Specialist
Brian Hurst, New Palestine, Rescue Specialist
Cara Newton, Greenfield, Technical Search
Chris Hemphill, Greenfield, Search Team Manager
Chuck Jones, Greenfield, Medical Specialist
Don Weilhammer, Greenfield, Logistic Specialist
Dustin Palmer, Greenfield, Rescue Specialist
James Wolsiffer, New Palestine, Rescue Specialist
Jason Tibbetts, Greenfield, Rescue Specialist
Jay Settergren, Wilkinson, Task Force Leader
Jennifer Blake, Wilkinson, Rescue Specialist
Jerry Nulliner, McCordsville, Plans Team Manager
Kenny Gulley, Greenfield, Rescue Specialist
Kenny Human, Greenfield, Rescue Specialist
Michael J. Boyd Jr., New Palestine, Rescue Specialist
Michael Parker, Wilkinson, Logistic Specialist
Robert Huskisson, Greenfield, Hazmat Specialist
Shane Weiler, Greenfield, Rescue Specialist
Shawn Remick, Greenfield, Communications
Tanner Howard, Fortville, Rescue Specialist
Tony Biggs, McCordsville, Rescue Specialist
Tony Wilson, McCordsville, Rescue Specialist