City's most seasoned firefighter shares battle stories

At 64, IFD Battalion Chief Dan Hansman has seen his share of fire.
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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Marion County - On-duty Indianapolis firefighters shared Thanksgiving dinner around firehouse tables Thursday.

As they stand ready for any alarm, Eyewitness News highlights the service of an east side battalion chief with more than four decades with the city and who at times defied the odds in the face of danger.

At 64, IFD Battalion Chief Dan Hansman has seen his share of fire. He is the city's oldest and most tenured firefighter, on the street for 42 years. He's cheated death a time or two.

"I was on the floor that fell on the guys," Hansman told 13 Investigates in his office at Station 25 at 17 S. Sheridan.

He was talking about a fire at the Murat Temple on February 2, 1988. It's been 20 years. But the gratitude and pain of what happened that day downtown is never far away from the chief, whose eyes welled up with tears recalling those tense, frightening moments.

"It's hard to talk about," he said his voice cracking and near a whisper as he fought to maintain his composure.

It was a two-alarm fire. But it didn't appear as such at first glance.  On the scene, Hansman sent his crew to pull hose lines on the second floor.

"You couldn't see nothing. It was smoky," he recalled. "I found these stairs and went up these stairs because we couldn't even find the fire. I crawled up there and I could see a little fire over there in the corner."

But within moments, Hansman's world was upside down.

"When that floor fell, I mean, I'm just free falling. And my whole family just flashed right in front of me. I thought to myself, this is it. This is how I'm going to die," the veteran firefighter said.

He didn't. He landed on a mound of debris, burying 15 injured firefighters below. With little help and no time to waste, all he could do was dig.

Days later from a hospital bed, injured firefighter Christopher Pitts shared his public gratitude

"The effort to get us out was just incredible, just incredible," Pitts said looking at video of his rescue provided by Eyewitness News.

"I figured we had 10 or 12 guys dead. One of the guys in my company got paralyzed from the waist down," Hansman said.

Amazingly, no one was killed.

Chief Hansman suffered hypothermia after taking off his jacket to wrap around an injured firefighter at the scene. Hansman still grieves for the one who lost his career.

Hansman has faced his own medical threat. In 2004, he got a career-ending diagnosis. He was on the verge of death and didn't even know it.

"I said, 'I feel great.' And he said, 'Well, we're going to try to save your life,'" Hansman said, recalling the conversation between him and his doctor.

His annual fitness test at IFD uncovered signs of a heart attack in waiting.

After quadruple bypass surgery for four blocked arteries, Hansman was faced with a decision: retire or retread.

"I was back running in six weeks," he said proudly.

Defying the odds, he hasn't missed a beat and isn't ready to quit just yet.

"I still enjoy helping people," he confided. "It keeps you going. Age is just a number."

A number until he turns 70 and the city's age restriction forces him into retirement. That's still six years away. For now he's living his dream and fulfilling a lifetime of public service.

Read Maxed Out Part One. - Firefighters are facing a personal battle.