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Fire fighters cope with second fatal fire in two weeks

LEBANON, Ind. (WISH) – Fire fighters are leaning on each other for support after their second fatal fire in less than two weeks.

Thursday afternoon, 29-year-old Leslie Hawkins died in her apartment after it caught fire in the 200 block of South East Street.

Late last month, several apartments caught fire in the 2300 block of Roselawn Drive and one man inside didn’t survive.

Firefighters have each others backs when out at the scene, but that support continues in a different way once back at the fire house, especially after there’s a loss of life.

Fire fighters focus on the task at hand. At the moment for Jacob Fussell, that means preparing dinner for his crew.

“Some guys enjoy cooking, that helps them relieve steam and everything like that also,” he said as he stirred a pot in firehouse kitchen.

But sometimes prepping a meal isn’t enough to escape the stress he faces while at work.

“You go back through everything in your mind. You kind of replay the scene a little bit,” Fussell said.

Hours earlier, he and several other fire fighters were called out to an apartment on South East street. It took them only minutes to stop the flames. But unfortunately Hawkins, who lived on the second floor, didn’t survive.

It was a tragic reality family members were struggling to come to grips with at the scene.

“How am I supposed to explain this to my daughter,” asked Chris Hawkins, Leslie’s ex-husband. The two had a daughter together.

“We’re all really tight here. We all have families. We all know what it would be like to actually lose someone,” said Lebanon fire fighter Gabe Westerfeld.

Before these brave few suit up, they always know death and loss are sadly part of the job.

But once the trucks are back in the bays and gear cleaned up, fire fighters they do their to best  move forward. Not just for themselves, but for the community they protect.

“You always try to think positively. Always believe you know you did your best and everything that you could for that particular job,” said Fussell.

“But the main thing we do is just rely on each other. Work out, do whatever necessary to get your mind off it because you just got to be ready to go for the next one,” added Westerfeld.

Investigators say there were no working smoke detectors in the apartment.

Hawkins has three children, but none of them were home at the time. What caused the fire is still under investigation.

Investigators have narrowed it down to two possibilities, both of which they say are preventable.

They said it’s possible the fire started due to a space heater or something that was lit like a match or cigarette. Neighbors tell us the heat in Hawkins’ apartment wasn’t working and that she used space heaters to keep warm.

“Careless fires that result in a fatality are very tragic because for the simple fact that they are preventable. Whether it is a lit match, a lit cigarette, a space heater, anything around the house that causes something like this, it’s absolutely preventable,” said Westerfeld.