State Fair first responders honored as lawmakers push for tighter inspection rules


For the first time since the Indiana State Fair tragedy, Indianapolis firefighters are being honored for their heroic efforts that night.

Also, there's bipartisan support to make inspections mandatory on temporary stages. 13 investigates has been putting a spotlight on the issue since the collapse on August 13th.

We now know the State Fair lacked a comprehensive evacuation plan for severe weather. 13 Investigates also discovered the Mid-America Sound Corporation did not have to get a permit to build the scaffolding - meaning no Indiana Agency inspected it for safety. We raised serious questions about the guy wires and anchors attached to the rigging. It's unclear if they functioned properly.

Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Indianapolis) is a member of the State Fair Commission. He was at the Sugarland concert with his family the night of the collapse. Now he's the first Republican lending his name to help push for statewide inspections of temporary stages as he honors the selfless acts of first responders.

"Obviously this was a tragedy for this night that none of us will forget, but sometimes positive things happen out of that," he said.

They were on the front line. Some of the first firefighters to storm the stage moments after the roof collapsed at the Indiana State Fair undoubtedly saved both lives and limbs.

For the first time, the Indiana Senate honored their heroic acts.

"I thought it was very special," said Garrett Peach, referring to the applause that his father Indianapolis Fire Department Pvt. John Peach and other firefighters received at the Statehouse Monday.

Pvt. Peach is the firefighter behind that bone-chilling call: "The stage has collapsed! Control Grandstand EMS, the grandstands are gone!"

"Really, we were running through the crowd. The crowd was rushing out. My partner and I were rushing in and the wind was howling and I was just trying to get that initial radio call out to get the calvary coming," said Pvt. Peach.

"It just feels like what I swore to the city I would do, but it's nice for my wife and my son to get to see," said Pvt. Derrick Gribler, IFD.

Within 70 minutes of the collapse, 46 victims had been transported to local hospitals. The first patient was wheeled into surgery less than 45 minutes after the rigging toppled. But there were problems highlighted in dispatch tapes obtained by 13 Investigates.

"We need to rethink our strategy. It's not working. We need to get the trucks down here in order for us to start working the medical thing to get patients out of here. Do what we have to do. Have State Police open up the line. But we need to get the trucks up here. We can't keep having the patients dragged across the pavement up to you," said a commander on the dispatch tapes during the height of the chaotic rescue attempts.

"You can't go wrong as long as you're helping because everything is just so chaotic. Everyone did a great job," said Lt. Brian Wisehart, IFD.

Honoring first responders is an act of goodwill, but Sen. Merritt , who is also on the State Fair Commission, says that's not enough. He is now one of the leading Republicans joining Democrats to push for better policy on permits and inspections for outdoor temporary stages.

"For everybody to hold hands and say in the interim between now and a complete plan, we have something that can get stages inspected," said Merritt.

Senate Bill 273 is now awaiting action in the House of Representatives. Merritt says lawmakers are trying to mirror the actions of agencies that already have good inspection policies in place, like the City of Indianapolis Code Enforcement.

Sen. Merritt says they'll know more about what to include in the proposed law once the official reports on the cause and responses are released. That could be as soon as next month.

Merritt said in a letter to the Indianapolis Star, "We are taking positive steps to prevent another tragedy like that of August 13, 2011."

This incident is also getting attention from other departments around the country. The Miami-Dade County EMS in Florida now plans to use the State Fair Tragedy as a case study on how to deal with mass casualties, including things like triaging with no cell phone coverage.