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December 16, 2013

Chief, longest-serving firefighter reflect on PUFD's 50th anniversary

Firefighters take part in exercise

Firefighter Diana Hardy and Capt. Kent Sales take part in a training exercise at Grissom Air Reserve Base (Purdue University Fire Department photo) Download Photo

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — From fires, chemical spills and aircraft emergencies to medical issues and elevator rescues, the Purdue University Fire Department (PUFD) has been serving the West Lafayette campus for 50 years.

Purdue University is one of only a handful of higher education institutions in the country with their own fire department and the only full-service campus fire and emergency medical services department in the Big Ten.

"Purdue is a unique institution. In addition to residence halls and academic buildings, we are home to the second busiest airport in the state and state-of-the-art research facilities," said Purdue fire chief Kevin Ply, who was named "Indiana Fire Chief of the Year" in 2010. "Our firefighters know each and every building and the challenges inside. We have relationships with faculty and staff, and meet on a regular basis. These close relationships allow us to respond quickly in the event of an emergency."

Fire trucks

Fire trucks ready to respond at Clayton West Dement Station. Download Photo

Diana Hardy joined the department in 1981 and celebrated 32 years with Purdue on Dec. 1. Hardy is PUFD's longest serving firefighter. She's witnessed the department go through many changes, including the hiring of more women. She was the first woman to join PUFD and she is currently the longest serving female firefighter in Indiana.

"It was challenging to be a woman working in a male-dominated profession, Hardy said. "I wanted to be treated fairly in the workplace and I worked hard to earn the respect of my co-workers. I found my niche and we have come to appreciate each other’s individuality. I'm proud of that."

Hardy hopes she can inspire other women to become firefighters. She often volunteers to talk to school groups who come to tour the fire station. She loves the look on the faces of young women when they realize they could be a firefighter one day, just like her.

PUFD operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year. By the end of 2013, the department is expected to log more than 2,600 calls for service. In addition to fire protection, the department is certified in Advanced Life Support. PUFD operates its ambulance service at no cost to the patient.

"We want students to 'make the call' when they need help, period," said Ply, citing a campus public safety campaign.

Along with serving the campus, PUFD assists outside departments and collaborates with the nine counties that make up the Indiana Department of Homeland Security District IV.

Purdue firefighters were part of the response to the Henryville, Ind., tornado and Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast. In June the department assisted crews in Hoopeston, Ill., by deploying a firefighting robot in its arsenal to help extinguish a large fire at a tire plant. This first ever response with the robot generated valuable feedback for the researchers who helped develop the product.

Each Purdue Fire Department member holds a state certification for firefighter, EMT or paramedic, airport rescue firefighter, Hazardous Material Technician, as well as other specialized fire department training requirements.

"We're proud of our history of serving the people of Purdue for the past 50 years. We've changed as the needs of the university have changed. Our department attends numerous training programs every year so we are ready no matter what the call, and we look forward to serving the campus community for another 50 years," Ply said.

Writer: Liz Evans, 317-696-0745, lizevans@purdue.edu

Sources: Kevin Ply, 765-494-6919, kmply@purdue.edu;

Diana Hardy, 765-494-6919, djhardy@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Chief Kevin Ply and Diana Hardy are available for interviews on Monday, Dec. 16.