By Nancy Price
The friends and family of a young, passionate and driven local firefighter are helping to keep his memory alive by donating to the Greenwood Fire Department Cadet program and offering annual scholarships to local individuals pursing a career in public service.
A 2010 Center Grove High School graduate, Austin Speece suddenly and tragically passed away in 2017. As a young boy, he lived across the street from a firefighter he idolized, according to his father, Bob Speece. “I think that had some influence on him,” Bob said. “He loved the idea (of becoming a fireman). And when he became a fireman, he got that man’s badge numsber.”
CAREER TRAINING IN HIGH SCHOOL
In high school, Austin participated in the Greenwood Fire Department Cadet program, which introduces youth into fire and emergency medical service career fields. The cadet program works closely with Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood and “is one of the few places that offer the curriculum to high school students in South Central Indiana,” said Lieutenant Firefighter and Paramedic Matt Davidson. The curriculum is for certifications in Firefighter I/II and for Emergency Medical Technician.
“Kids can take these classes as part of their core 40 requirements for graduation and leave high school ready to work,” he continued. “Many of the kids that attend these classes at C-9 are presented the opportunity to apply what they learn through the Greenwood Fire Department Cadet program. Many of them return to test with and hopefully be employed right where they began.”
Once Austin completed the curriculum and graduated from high school, he returned to the fire department. Bob recalled Austin’s vulnerability as a new firefighter. “He asked me one day, he was talking about going on a run, ‘what if I can’t handle it, Dad?’ I said, ‘I think your adrenaline flow will get you through it and this will become like an instinct, and you’ll do what you know and maybe afterwards it may affect you but at that time you won’t have time to worry about what you’ve seen.’”
A NATURAL LEADER
Austin also became a cadet leader. “He loved kids, and of course they all loved him, too,” said Bob. “It was just the idea about teaching the young people what he learned through the program and passing it on to them.”
“He treated all the cadets like he was their big brother,” added Davidson. “He would always say to them, ‘look, you can do this. I did; now I’m living it.’ He excelled in his career by staying humble and always wanting more information. He was (part of) the first crew after I was promoted to Lieutenant and he matched me in the desire to always want to be better at what we did and better than all the other crews.”
Austin also represented the department as a member of the Honor Guard. “He wanted to be part of the ceremonies for things like fallen firefighters, funerals for past and present members across the nation,” said Davidson. “He wanted to be part of the rigid nature of the Honor Guard. He was part of a nationally recognized team for multiple years.”
A KID AT HEART
Although serious about his career, Austin had a playful side that appealed to those who knew him.
“We would laugh all the time at some of the situations we would find ourselves in while at work,” Davidson said. “As a friend he was more like another of my kids. But he had a brand of loyalty that is hard to find in young people today.”
Davidson recalled that when his son was younger and being treated for cancer at Riley Children’s Hospital, Austin was “always buying gifts, sneaking in candy, visiting when Zane would get bored at Riley or be down because we were there over a holiday or something,” he said. “Then he wanted to give back after Zane was released by going (to Riley) to read to the kids and hand out gift baskets for newly diagnosed families.”
After Austin’s death, friends and family asked others attending the funeral to consider donating to the cadet program instead of sending flowers to the funeral home. One of Austin’s friends, a fellow firefighter, sold bracelets to help with fundraising. A few months later, Austin’s aunt and uncle decided to donate money for an annual scholarship in Austin’s honor for a student studying public service. Larry Cress, a student attending the University of Indianapolis, was chosen as the first scholarship recipient recently. Cress plans to follow in his dad’s footsteps as policeman. “He is a very well-mannered young man. He pretty much won hands-down,” Bob said.
Although gone, Austin will never be forgotten by those who knew him. “Anybody who knew the kid, they loved him no matter what,” Bob said.
“Austin was a tremendous loss for me personally and for the crew that we had built,” added Davidson. “He had so much unfinished business on this earth.”
For more information about the scholarship or how to donate toward the cadet program, please email Bob Speece at firstname.lastname@example.org.