It would probably be hard for anyone in Lowell, Indiana to imagine a time when there wasn’t an Eskridge in the fire service there.
“My grandfather and my father have a combined 68 years of service, so we have a lot of history here,” said Eskridge.
Born in Lowell in 1946, he spent the majority of his life in the fire service, serving on the Lowell Fire Department for 50 years. Now retired, he looks back over the years of service, which he first started at the age of 21.
“That was the rule back then,” said Eskridge.
As soon as he turned 21, he applied and was accepted two months later, eventually serving as fire chief of Lowell for 15 years and was also a paramedic.
“I was in the first graduating class of paramedics in Lake County in 1975. We started the ambulance service here locally in 1974. I became the director, and remained the director for 34 years until I retired at the end of April, 2008,” said Eskridge.
A graduate of Lowell High School, Eskridge originally considered becoming a funeral director, like his father was, but decided instead to buy the clothing store where he worked.
“The owners were looking to sell, and since I had worked there, they gave me first chance to buy it. I borrowed every bit of money I could, back in 1966, and I bought it. I had $100 of my own money that I put into the cash register to start it. I ran that store for eight years. It was a great time.”
Even after retirement, Eskridge remains active, helping people in times of need.
“I started working with 1-800 BoardUp, a fire restoration company out of Griffith, Indiana. I’ve been with them for 11 years, as emergency services director, serving Lake and Porter counties.”
He has an active philosophy about life.
“You just gotta keep going,” he said. “I’ve been helping people my whole life, and that’s what I enjoy doing. Even now, in the private sector. I can help people that are in peril from fires, storms and floods.”
Over the years, he has had the opportunity to meet and work with many other fire chiefs from the surrounding areas, and it was those connections which led to starting the 1-800 BoardUp Boot Drive to benefit the Hoosier Burn Camp.
“We started it seven years ago. My boss allowed me to put in a lot of time in coordinating it with the participating fire departments. We have about 20-25 departments from both Lake and Porter county that help out with that. They schedule boot drives in their areas, and we combine all the money raised. Then we go down and make a check presentation there at the Hoosier Burn Camp in Brookston, Indiana”
Eskridge says that the Boot Drive is personal to him, largely because of an incident which occurred 16 years ago.
“We had a child who was rescued from a duplex here in Lowell. She was six years old at the time. We rescued her from a burning building. She wasn’t breathing. We handed her off to the medics. They got her breathing again. She has grown up to become a very nice young lady,” he recalled. “I just recently had lunch with her here in Lowell. We still keep in contact.”
Eskridge says that incidents like that contributed to his involvement with the Burn Camp. To date, they have raised a little over $400,000.
“This last check was a little over $72,000. Our 10-year goal is a half million, but we are going to more than surpass that.”
Despite being diagnosed with cancer in 2013, he feels that he’s had a good life.
“I got through that. I’m cancer-free now. Still go back for checkups of course, but I’m doing well.”
Eskridge is proud of his recent weight loss, shedding 90 pounds, but is perhaps even prouder of being named Indiana Firefighter of the Year by the Indiana Emergency Response Conference in 2015.
“It was really an honor,” said Eskridge. “I grew up with it… it was in my blood. My father was on the fire department for 37 years. My grandfather was chief, he was on the department since 1908. Altogether, we have 118 years of service in our family.”
“It’s the people that are in peril that you have to help. I enjoy helping the people.”
The only thing that Eskridge loves more than helping people is his family: his two daughters and four grandchildren
“We recently took a trip down to Universal Studios in Florida. Creating memories,” said Eskridge. “You gotta stay active, gotta enjoy what time you have here on this Earth.
Over the years, Eskridge has enjoyed various hobbies, from woodworking to making glass lamps, and enjoys fishing when he can get away, but he will never be far from the town he loves, and the people who live there.
“Family comes first.”