Box 15 Has Helped with Central Ohio Catastrophes for 47 Years

May 26, 2015

Whenever a building catches on fire or a tanker truck overturns or the Police SWAT team is called out to diffuse a dangerous situation, there is a group of Columbus residents who rush in to help. Most people have never heard of Box 15 or the work they do to help out local police and firefighters.

Established 68 years ago, Box 15 Vice President Brett Barber says explained the group took its name form the history of downtown Columbus streets.

“The name box actually referred to the fire alarm boxes that they used on the street corners before telephones. The number 15 actually referred to the number of people that first organized the group in 1947,” Barber explained. 

Barber said Box 15 has grown since then. A former Whitehall volunteer firefighter who was injured on the job, Barber said Box 15 now boasts 24 active members and 22 associate members who rarely go out on runs but participate in other Box 15  activities. Barber explained the group is open to people with an interest in the fire service who can pass a background check. And while not medics, Barber said Box 15 members undergo a 3-month training period.  

Once notified of a fire or HAZMAT situation, Barber said Box 15 members are ready to go.

As a part of on-scene rehab, Columbus firefighters seek the support of Box 15 members for chilled water and sports drinks, chilled towels, chairs, misting fans, heaters and tents.

"Typically we’re an automatic response on any second alarm or larger fire, HAZMAT 3 incidents, that’s a major HAZMAT incident or a major gas leak, like a contractor struck a high pressure pipeline or something like that," Barber said.

But Barber says, in the case of extreme temperatures, above 95 or below zero degrees, Box 15 goes out on any fire or emergency situation.

Todd Schultheis is a 13-year veteran of the Division of Fire. He said working to put out a fire takes a toll on the body.

“You know, when we’re in there doing what we do it does not take long to get dehydrated. It does not take long to use up the stores of energy and sugars and stuff in your body to keep you going,” Schultheis said.

Schultheis said fire crews are routinely rotated in and out to refuel.

“Usually, there’s a crew of three or four people. And we always stay together as a crew. You know anybody comes out the whole crew comes out. And then a whole crew will replace you and you’ll go to rehab as a crew and then when it’s time to go back to work, you’ll go back in as a crew,” explained Schultheis.

It’s during rehab, Brett Barber said that Box 15 takes over providing relief to firefighters weighed down under 40 pounds of protective gear and equipment.

“When they go in to fight a fire they’re totally cocooned in their fire gear. Their body temperature raises considerably. The core, 98.6 will raise up to 102, 103 may be as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Through that same period, they are losing a lot of fluid through perspiration. Our major concerns are to get their core temperature back down, get fluids back into them, to rebalance their electrolytes and provide nutrition as necessary,” Barber said.

One of Box 15's repurposed medic units is parked beside a fire engine at a Columbus Fire Station.
Credit Marilyn Smith / WOSU News

  Barber said Box 15 has three well-worn medic trucks to carry supplies most of which are donated or paid for by Box 15 members. The group regularly stocks chilled water and sports drinks, chilled towels, chairs, misting fans, heaters and tents. Barber says Box 15 is a non-profit. That allows the group to receive tax exempt donations. Still, Barber says members often shell out their own money to help keep Box 15 going.

Firefighter Todd Schultheis said  if Box 15 members weren’t on the scene, fire crews would be on their own left to drink the same water they use to fight fires.

“I know when I first came on I didn’t know anything about Box 15. I started asking questions and I just assumed they were a part of one of our bureaus, you know, paid employees. And then when I found out that these were all volunteers that were sitting out there in the cold, in the middle of winter, three o’clock in the morning and they’re doing it because they wanted to do it is something that always really impresses me,” Schultheis said.