Aug. 12--For a couple of hours Monday, the town of New Carlisle shut down, its streets transformed into a procession of fire engines and police cars as hundreds of flag-bearing townspeople looked on, many clutching signs that praised firefighter Jamie Middlebrook's heroism.
Residents said they had never seen anything that quite matched the tributes to Middlebrook, an assistant chief with the volunteer department who died in the line of duty last week.
"That was awe-inspiring, to be quite honest with you," Bill Johnson said after the procession. "I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen anything like it."
Johnson, who brought his five grandchildren to the procession, was among those who turned out to honor Middlebrook in a daylong series of tributes that began with a funeral service at Mishawaka's Bethel College and ended with a burial at New Carlisle Cemetery.
Middlebrook died late Aug. 5 after a ceiling collapsed while he was battling an industrial barn fire at K-Fex Excavating & Trucking, just west of town in LaPorte County. Another volunteer firefighter, Matt O'Donnell, suffered a broken ankle in the collapse.
Hundreds of mourners, including a huge contingent of police and firefighters from throughout northern Indiana, packed Bethel's Everest-Rohrer Auditorium -- with dozens more spilling into overflow areas -- for the funeral.
Speakers included New Carlisle Fire Chief Josh Schweizer, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, of Granger, and John Hill, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Schweizer drew a long round of applause after he delivered an emotional tribute.
"I came into the fire service and he took me in, he taught me the right way to do things. He showed me how to be strong, be brave in someone's time of need. His time of need is now," Schweizer said before addressing Middlebrook's parents.
"Bob, Carol, I'd like to thank you for sharing Jamie with us. He was a huge part of your life, and a huge part of mine."
Donnelly praised Middlebrook's dedication to his hometown, calling him an "all-American hero," while Hill, speaking on behalf of Gov. Mike Pence, pointed to what he described as Middlebrook's obvious devotion to his wife, Julie.
"He was, as you are, the cornerstone of this wonderful town," Donnelly said. "He will always be on call in our hearts, and he will always be our hero."
Many people wept as the fire engine bearing Middlebrook's flag-draped casket passed through little downtown New Carlisle on its way to the cemetery. In such a tightknit community, losses hit residents harder, especially when they involve public servants, residents said.
"This will never be forgotten," Geri Welton said, describing Middlebrook as a man who was always willing to make sacrifices for his community.
"He was constantly giving of himself to fight fires, fight for people when they were injured. He was a wonderful man."
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