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Episode 17: Situational awareness lessons learned from a double line-of-duty death

Situational Awareness Matters“Lessons learned from the Athletic Club Hotel Fire.” This episode is an interview with Indianapolis Health & Safety Chief, Doug Abernathy. In 1992, Doug had been on the Indianapolis Fire Department for four years and was serving as a firefighter on Engine 13. He shares a powerful story about brotherhood, love of the job and how looking his friend and academy classmate impacted him. Listen in and learn from the tragic Athletic Club fire that claimed the lives of two Indianapolis firefighters.


Length: 50 minutes
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On this episode I interview Indianapolis Fire Department Chief of Health and Safety, Doug Abernathy. Doug’s career has spanned almost three decades and on February 5, 1992, he had a close call event that, most unfortunately, took the lives of two of his brother firefighters. In this episode, you’ll learn about:

1. Doug’s close call that involved tunnel vision and running out of air on the third floor.

2. How he became disoriented and realized, for the first time in his life, he may die in a fire.

3.  How he was in shock and disbelief that he was carrying out downed firefighters.

4. How is training saved his life.

5. Reflection shared by Indiana State Fire Training Director, John Buckman, III

It was just after midnight on Feb. 5, 1992, when 911 dispatchers got the call reporting smoke in the lobby of the old Athletic Club downtown, a nine-story, non-sprinklered building with a working fire in the third floor. Before the fire would be extinguished, Corporal Ellwood M. “Woody” Gelenius, 47 and Private John J. Lorenzano, 29 would be killed. This interview is with a firefighter, assigned to Engine 13, experienced a close call event at this fire, and then, after surviving, assisted in searching for, and locating, two of his comrades, one of which was his classmate in the academy just four years earlier.

Normally, when I conduct an interview, I like to stop along the way and ask questions and engage in a discussion with my guest. This story is so compelling and so impactful, I simply could not bring myself to interrupt Chief Abernathy’s telling of events. So, with no further delay, let’s listen in… to this very compelling interview with close call survivor Indianapolis Fire Department Chief of Health and Safety, Doug Abernathy.


Video from the Athletic Club fire

United States Fire Administration Technical Report

Indianapolis Star article


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