- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

NEW CARLISLE, Ind. (AP) - The leader of a northern Indiana town’s volunteer fire department said it is experiencing grief and disbelief after its assistant chief was killed at a business blaze this week.

Many people have left flowers and mementoes outside the New Carlisle fire station since 41-year-old Jamie Middlebrook died Tuesday night when a roof collapsed on him.

“We’re missing the backbone of our department,” New Carlisle Fire Chief Joshua Schweizer told WSBT-TV.

Services for Middlebrook will be held at Bethel College’s auditorium in Mishawaka, beginning with visitation on Sunday and his funeral on Monday. A funeral procession to New Carlisle Cemetery will follow, with Middlebrook’s casket to be carried by one of the department’s fire engines.

Middlebrook was with other firefighters working to set up a hose inside K-Fex Inc., a trucking and excavating company, when the roof collapse happened. Fellow firefighter Matt O’Donnell was treated for a broken ankle and other injuries.

Schweizer said he felt helpless once he realized that Middlebrook hadn’t made it out of the burning building.

“It was an absolute lost feeling,” he said. “We still have a job to do, but my friend is in there, but we have nothing further that I can do.”

LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan, who has been with the LaPorte Fire Department for 25 years, said fighting a fire from inside a burning building can turn deadly at any moment.

“Interior structure firefighting is extremely hazardous, and the danger of collapse is always looming,” he told the South Bend Tribune. “When you walk into the building, there’s no guarantee you’re going to walk out.”

State and federal investigators have been working to determine what caused the fire at the business about 15 miles west of South Bend.

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