Longtime Clay Fire Chief Schabbel honored with statewide award

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- After a decorated, 35-year career as a firefighter and chief, Tim Schabbel announced his retirement from Clay Fire late last year, and late last week he was honored by State Representative Tim Wesco (R-Osceola) Thursday with Sagamore of the Wabash award.

Wesco presented the award to Schabbel during Clay Fire's annual awards banquet on Thursday.

Officials say Schabbel is the longest tenured chief officer in the agency's 75-year history, serving from 1997 to 2024, and under Schabbel's leadership, Clay Fire became the first internationally accredited fire department in the state.

"For the last 35 years of his career, Chief Schabbel has shown what it takes to be a leader inside and outside of the firehouse," Wesco said. "He embodies all of the qualities of what a public servant should try to strive for and achieve. I, along with so many Hoosiers, are incredibly thankful for his service and it's an honor to be able to present him the Sagamore of the Wabash."

Wesco told the crowd at the award ceremony that Schabbel's vision and determination resulted in the uniting of three well-established and successful fire departments into the Clay Fire Territory, and that, more than a decade ago, Schabbel proposed and created the Clay Fire Command Training Center, which was the first such resource in Indiana,

That program has trained over 300 incident commanders from all around the world.

"Chief Schabbel is an outstanding fire service professional, mentor, colleague and most of all an outstanding leader," Assistant Fire Chief of Clay Fire Jaren Kilian said. "He is and always has been a leader to those of us in the profession. For over 35 years he has been the most visible proponent of safe, effective, efficient and fiscally responsible delivery of emergency services."

Schabbel began his career in Romeoville, Ill. as a firefighter and was promoted to lieutenant before transferring to Clay Township Fire Department in 1989.

Wesco said he has been recognized as the Indiana Firefighter of the Year and received the Clay Township Trustee's Award.

Schabbel also received the inaugural Indiana Fire Chief of the Year Award as well as the distinguished International Association of Fire Chiefs' Health, Safety and Survival Section "Garry Briese" Safety Performance Award for making significant contributions to the overall environment of health and safety in their organizations.

History of the Sagamore of the Wabash award

According to State of Indiana officials, the Sagamore of the Wabash award was created during the term of Governor Ralph Gates, who served from 1945 to 1949.

Gates was to attend a tri-state meeting in Louisville with officials from the states of Ohio and Kentucky. Aides to the governor discovered that the governor of Kentucky was preparing Kentucky Colonel certificates for Gates and Senator Robert A. Taft, who represented the State of Ohio.

The Hoosiers decided that Indiana should have an appropriate award to present in return.

The term “sagamore” was used by the American Indian Tribes of the northeastern United States to describe a lesser chief or a great man among the tribe to whom the true chief would look for wisdom and advice.

Each governor since Gates has presented the certificates in their own way. It has been said that one governor even resorted to wearing full Indian headdress as he read the scrolls.

The award is highest honor, which the Governor of Indiana bestows.

It is a personal tribute usually given to both men and women who have rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor. Among these who have received Sagamores have been astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, artists, musicians, politicians, and ordinary citizens who have contributed greatly to our Hoosier heritage.

There is no official record of the total number that have been presented, as each governor has kept his own roll; just as each has reserved the right to personally select the recipients.

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