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September 27, 2012

Battle of his life: Sellersburg firefighter has stage-four lung cancer

SELLERSBURG — Mike Tackett has served on the Sellersburg fire service for nearly 30 years, but his recent diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer is a more formidable opponent than any blaze he has ever fought.

The 47-year-old Sellersburg native has roots in the Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department that include his grandfather serving as one of four founding members in 1947, his father and uncle both serving as Sellersburg firefighters and his own history with the department that began with him becoming an SFD Explorer Scout at the tender age of 13.

But when Tackett, who serves as a major at SFD Station No. 1, was diagnosed with lung cancer in July, he didn’t think about his lifetime of fighting fires.

“My first thought was not being there for my kids — not being there for my wife,” he said.

Tackett and his wife of 14 years, Laurie-Beal Tackett, have four children, Shelby, 14, Evan, 11, Chloe, 9, and Benjamin, 6. Tackett also has a 24-year-old son, Justin, from a previous relationship.

Since his diagnosis, chemotherapy and radiation treatments have depleted his energy and dwindled his speech to a faint whisper.

Although his speech is weak, his words and ambition are strong.

“I want to be able to get back to work,” he said while sitting on the couch of his family home. “If I get my voice back, I want to get back to the training. That is what I did. I want to be able to teach the new guys how to do the job the safe way.”

While Tackett’s condition has forced him to take time off from the fire department, the courage and compassion of a firefighter still burns within him.

“If I can get all my stuff back, I think I have a lot to offer,” he said.

Growing up in a firefighter family, Tackett knew at a young age he wanted to follow the same path taken by his father and grandfather.

He recalled the excitement he felt as a boy hearing the sound of fire engines roaring down the street.

“Every time I heard the siren from a fire engine, I would pop up and ride my bike to watch the trucks go by — knowing one day I would be on them,” Tackett said.

He said his grandfather, Shirley, helped purchase a building that became the town’s first firehouse.

His father, Shirl, was not only a firefighter, but also a police officer, and was as big as a giant to his young son.

“If it didn’t have lights and sirens on it, he didn’t drive it,” Tackett said of his father, breaking a smile.

He said his father’s twin brother was also a firefighter, and that heritage, makes Tackett a well-known character throughout the town.

“All the time, I go somewhere and people say to me, ‘Hey aren’t you one of those twins’ boys? Yeah, you are one those twins’ boys,’” Tackett said.

While he can appreciate being known to his community, Tackett said he has never cared much for the attention firefighters receive by the media reporting on fires.

“Whenever a TV camera is on the scene of a fire, I do what I can to stay out of the way,” he said. “I didn’t care to be in the lime light, the glory. I am just there to do my job.”

Perhaps that modesty, that love of his duty, is why his fellow firefighters and community have stepped up to support him as he is now the one in need.

“Guys come by all the time,” he said.

He said his friends and firefighters have gone to great lengths to come to his assistance during his treatments.

“Just tremendous. They have been only helpful,” he said of his firefighting brethren.

Tackett said he has been able to rely on his friends stopping by to help fix things around his home and keep up his yard — simple tasks Tackett no longer has the energy to do himself.

He said others regularly drop off food to his door, and some have even taken him to the hospital so he can receive treatments.

Tackett said he expects some of his children to one day follow in his foot steps in the fire service, as he did his father’s and his father did his father’s.

He said he is motivated to survive his bout with cancer so he can teach his kids how to be the best firefighters they can be.

“I want to be there to show my kids to be able to do it the correct way,” he said.

Living life the correct way is Tackett’s way, at least that’s what those who know him best say.

Sellersburg Volunteer Fire Department Chief Boyce “Boz” Adams said Tackett is a team player at the department and a resource to the community.

“Mike has always helped other people in the community. He was raised up that way,” Adams said. “That is just what he does.”

Adams said Tackett is one of those rare types of people who is always willing to help others and never expects anything in return.

“He is living proof bad things happen to good people,” Adams said.

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Amy Harpenau is the new director of theater arts at New Albany High School. Harpenau is a 2007 graduate of Floyd Central High School, has appeared on stage at both high schools and worked in theaters since she graduated college.

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