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Firefighters in Hancock County concerned about their ability to respond to fires at warehouses

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Hancock County, Indiana – Local fire departments are sounding the alarm as more and more warehouses continue to be built in the western area of Hancock County. According to the statement made by the firefighter’s union, they simply do not have enough personnel to put out flames in those enormous buildings.

The brand-new Walmart distribution center is located in western Hancock County is the largest in the world. It has 2.2 million square feet of space. It is almost twice as large as the Walmart warehouse in Plainfield, Illinois, that was destroyed by fire in March of the previous year.

However, according to authorities from the Hancock County Fire Department, the situation would be considerably more dire if something similar occurred there.

“If this building was to catch on fire, the whole county combined, including our paid departments and our volunteer departments — we do not have enough to even do half the response of the Plainfield fire,” Tony Bratcher, who serves as the president of Hancock County Firefighters Local 4787, said.

In recent years, western Hancock County has had a building boom, with warehouses being created at a rate that exceeds the rate at which they can be occupied. To accommodate the ever-shifting topography, fire hydrants, and brand-new streets have both been built in recent years.

On the other hand, according to Bratcher, spending in public safety have not increased.

“We don’t have enough firefighters in this jurisdiction to operate safely at a house fire let alone a warehouse,” Bratcher said.

If another warehouse fire broke out like the one in Plainfield, he is concerned for the safety of the firefighters and the citizens of the town. According to him, the issue is one of availability of personnel.

“We have equipment. We have beautiful equipment. We’ve been fortunate the county has given us equipment,” Bratcher said. “But we need people to use it.”

The matter of money lies at the heart of the problem.

According to Bratcher, the majority of the warehouses benefit from tax abatements or are included in TIF districts, which means that the tax money they pay does not go toward funding things like fire services.

Jeannine Gray, who is the president of the Hancock County Council, is hoping things will change.

“As I understand it, there is some legislative language that could be changing to where money out of the TIF could be used for operating expenses,” Gray said. “Which would be really helpful for the departments.”

Bratcher stated that the issue would not be totally fixed in the near future, but that things cannot continue on in their current state.

“We have been reactive and I’m asking for proactive,” Bratcher said.

Gray stated that the Hancock County Council will begin discussions on the budget the following month. She expressed her belief that the council will vote in support of allocating additional funding to the county’s various fire units.

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