Five of Decatur County's most renowned and respected public servants stopped by the Decatur County Historical Society Saturday for a question and answer program open to the community.
The event allowed the quintet of vaunted professionals to explain some of the ins and outs of their respective careers while also offering a bit of history in their areas of expertise.
Called "Ask Our Community Protectors," the free program offered an opportunity for those in the community to hear the presenters' first-person accounts and anecdotes in a setting surrounded by memorabilia encompassing decades of police, fire, animal control and emergency medical services history.
Greensburg Chief of Police Stacey Chasteen was the first presenter of the afternoon, and she delved into the history of her department before taking questions.
Chief Chasteen noted the position of Police Chief was initially an elected office. The term "chief' wasn't used until early in the 20th century, she added, mentioning that the first individuals to serve in her position were known as Marshals.
Chief Chasteen brought along an historical record of the many who have previously served in her position, which is presently designated via a Mayoral appointment. Much of the research into the GPD's rich past was completed by Sgt. Steve Barnes, said Chasteen.
The first Greensburg Marshal was George Pilling, who was elected in 1859, and Charles F. Hood was the first officer to be designated as police chief in 1936.
Chasteen said the GPD consisted of four total officers in 1906. In contrast, more than a century later, her department is presently composed of 19 officers including herself. She's hoping to add a 20th officer at some point in the future.
Chasteen explained she took on her duties in Feb. 2011 after working for several years in the GPD's Investigations division. Chief Chasteen began her law enforcement career as a dispatcher in 1993.
Turning back the clock a bit, an early form of breathalyzer and a rather primitive radar detector are presently on display at the museum, each of which were talked about during the chief's presentation. Neither closely resembles its modern day counterpart.
Moving back into the present, Chief Chasteen described her job as "very interesting and different every day," and she mentioned the many recent drug arrests around the community are integral in not only taking the arrested individuals off the street, but also in helping establish leads to other cases.
The crackdown is working, Chasteen said, before issuing a stern condemnation of narcotics activity within the Tree City: "The Greensburg Police Department will not tolerate drug activity," she said.
Decatur County Sheriff Greg Allen offered the same amount of reverence for his position as Chief Chasteen had displayed of hers.
A 30-year veteran of the police force, Allen originally intended to become a veterinarian, going so far as earning a degree in Animal Science before finding his true calling as a law enforcement officer.
Allen became Westport Town Marshal in 1982 and joined the Indiana State Police (ISP) three years later. Allen eventually rose to the rank of Sergeant in the ISP before being elected Sheriff in 2010.
"It's fun, but it's a hectic job," noted Allen, whose responsibilities include managing 14 Deputies, 30 civilian jail employees and handling a laundry list of other requirements associated with the position.
The Sheriff is in charge of all aspects of the Decatur County Jail, including its burgeoning inmate population, which routinely swells beyond the facility's intended capacity of 55 people.
Many behind those walls may well be familiar with some of the tools of Allen's trade, which he demonstrated for those in attendance Saturday.
Sheriff Allen borrowed a can of pepper spray from Chief Chasteen and explained its temporary disabling effects on those unfortunate enough to receive a whiff of the substance. Allen also offered a detailed demonstration of a police taser, which sends volts of electricity coursing into a perpetrator's body, enough to briefly incapacitate most individuals.
Cheekily, the Sheriff mentioned his love of his department's new Dodge Charger police cruisers and joked the new cars were a far sight better than galloping across the county on horseback, as may have been the case in Decatur County's earliest days.
Animal Control Officer Mike Wenning, who began his duties in 2008, also expressed his love for his job.
Wenning demonstrated a "bite stick" for the audience, a baton-like apparatus used to defend against a dog attack Ñ a situation Animal Control Officers regularly face.
Wenning offered a light-hearted look at his profession and stated the best part of his career is "working with people and fixing things." As an Animal Control Officer, Wenning said he's dealt with dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, lizards, iguanas, raccoons, bats, skunks and nearly every other type of animal imaginable.
Wenning said he's "so excited and proud to have the privilege to make the community safer and to save lives."
Saving lives is the primary business of Decatur County EMS director Doug Banks, who brought along a state-of-the art cardiac monitor capable of transmitting a patient's blood pressure and EKG readings (among others) directly back to the Decatur County Memorial Hospital Emergency Room.
The device, noted Banks, costs $18,500. One is available for use in each of the five ambulances used throughout the county.
Banks said he anticipates this year's total number of emergency "runs" to exceed 3,000. As of Saturday, Decatur County EMS has responded to more than 2,050 emergency calls, he said.
Those situations are tended to by trained medical professionals on board modern ambulances, which Banks described as "basically an ER on wheels."
The EMS director also spoke of the invaluable contributions of Decatur County's many fire departments who are often the first responders in an emergency situation.
Greensburg Fire Department Captain Brian Wenning has undoubtedly responded to many of those calls throughout his 20-year career.
Wenning said he never set out to be a firefighter, but added, "I've really grown to love it. It's a great occupation."
Captain Wenning teaches fire prevention at area school systems and came to Saturday's program offering a wealth of history on his profession.
Wenning explained to the audience that Dalmatians are typically used as "fire dogs," simply because they get along well with horses, which were necessary forms of transportation in the early days of firefighting.
Wenning said the first fire department in Greensburg came about in 1874, and he took time to explain the use of several pieces of vintage firefighting memorabilia displayed around the museum. Much of the present display belonged to Don Minning, a retired Greensburg firefighter who passed away earlier this year. Viola Minning, Don's widow, attended the presentation and offered informative comments as well.
One discussion involved the famed Minear's fire in 1951 as well as the deadly Elks Club collapse in 1987.
Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056