Toxic 2015 fire blamed for leukemia that killed Decatur Township firefighter

Decatur Township Fire Dept. Lt. Tracy Hayden (Decatur Township Fire Dept. photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The Decatur Township Fire Department is mourning the death of one its firefighters in the line of duty for the first time in the history of the department.

Lieutenant Tracy Hayden died on Saturday after a fight with leukemia.

"He could light the room up,” said Decatur Township Fire Department Chief Pascal Arnes. “He always had a huge smile on his face. Tracy is the one who could take a bad environment and everyone was leaving laughing. Tracy will be dearly missed."

The fire believed responsible for Lt. Hayden’s death happened four years ago. He was diagnosed with leukemia in April. After 17 years with the Decatur Township Fire Department, he lost a 7-month battle with leukemia Saturday. Fellow firefighters believe the cause of that cancer can be traced to prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals at a fire he investigated in October 2015.

Lt. Hayden is survived by his wife, Tammy, and two young sons. (Tammy Hayden photo)

A stubborn fire burned for a couple days in a storage building in a wooded area at 5453 Seerley Road near Interstate 70. Hayden and fellow investigators learned the fire was fueled by toxic chemicals stored for years at what became an EPA cleanup site. Five containers believed to be metallic (elemental) potassium were involved in the fire.

"Cancer is becoming a big issue for firefighters,” said Lt. Scott McCaughna, who worked with Lt. Hayden and was the best man at his wedding. “We're exposed to it on fires of all kinds. When the new modern furnishings and materials burn, they liberate various chemicals and our bodies absorb that."

On Monday, firefighters kept busy, but subdued, at Decatur Township Fire Station 71, where Lt. Hayden’s gear still hangs in a locker.

"He gave the best hugs in the world,” said Lt. McCaughna. “I wasn't a hugger until Tracy, and he would take you and just hug you deep in your soul - great personality, very bright light, and very well-respected person here at the fire department."

Hayden was promoted to Lieutenant in 2011 and to Division Chief of Fire and Life Safety in 2014. He investigated fires and worked in fire education with schools and businesses.

Lt. Hayden was 38 years old and is survived by his wife, Tammy, and two young sons. Funeral arrangements should be finalized Tuesday morning, with visitation, a fire department processional and funeral late this week.

Funeral arrangements;

CALLING: Thursday Nov. 14, 2019 from 3:00PM-8:00PM at Valley Mills Christian Church 5555 Kentucky Avenue Indianapolis, IN 46221

SERVICE: Friday Nov. 15, 2019 11:00AM at Decatur Central High School 5251 Kentucky Avenue Indianapolis, IN 46221

DRIVE BY: Stations 71, 72, and 74 (route to be determined)

BURIAL: Gravesite services at Crown Hill Cemetery

The procession route, tentatively set to start at 1:30 p.m., is as follows:

Starting from 5555 Kentucky Avenue.
• Southwest on Kentucky Avenue
• South on Mendenhall Road
• East on Mooresville Road (West Newton)
• North on Mooresville Road – Turns into High School Road at Nolte Street
• Stop at Station 71 (5410 S. High School Road)
• East on Thompson Road
• North on Mann Road
• East on Superior Road
• North on Foltz Street
• Northeast on Kentucky Avenue
• North on West Street
• North on Dr. Martin Luther King Street
• East on 29th Street
• North on Illinois Street
• West on 34th Street into Crown Hill

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