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Hoosier Helper: The PBS Inside Story

"Our Hoosier Helper crews risk their lives every day to serve others, and this documentary takes viewers on a journey into the workday of these individuals. INDOT greatly appreciates having the opportunity to work with the film-makers and their sponsors to depict the dedication in their day to day work," said Ryan Gallagher, INDOT Deputy Commissioner.

Hoosier Helper: The PBS Inside Story

In 2006, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) Hoosier Helpers came to the aid of Nathan Jenson who was partaking in an air ambulance charity event that originated in California, a small town in England, and ended in California here in the United States when his double decker bus became lodged beneath a bridge that was too low to pass.  “I was fascinated by their service,” says Jenson. “And obviously very grateful that they’d come out and helped to get us turned around.” Six years later, Jenson is looking forward to the airing of a PBS documentary exploring the work of the INDOT Hoosier Helpers.

PBS Films Hoosier Helper Assist

The PBS Documentary captures real life motorist assists.

The idea for the documentary, airing in late September and into early October statewide, came as a result of Jenson’s experience, but was not set into motion until a few years later when Jenson returned to Indiana. “I was already in the TV industry and these real life documentaries are huge in England,” explains Jenson, “so I thought it’d be a great theme for a show.” Jenson contacted the INDOT and then reached out to the local PBS station, WFYI, who both approved and encouraged him to move forward with the idea.

Ryan Gallagher, INDOT Deputy Commissioner – Operations, said, “INDOT’s Hoosier Helper program is a vital component of the agency’s mission to enhance mobility and keep motorists safe on our interstates. Our Hoosier Helper crews risk their lives every day to serve others, and this documentary takes viewers on a journey into the workday of these individuals. INDOT greatly appreciates having the opportunity to work with the film-makers and their sponsors to depict the dedication in their day to day work.”

Jenson began shooting on his own at first, accompanying the Hoosier Helpers for at least ten ride-a-longs prior to having a PBS crew join. “The longer we spent with them and the more things we saw and the more incidents we dealt with, we realized that this was going to be great television – something people are going to love to watch.”

From a Vietnam veteran shedding tears of joy for the free service, to the life saving act of one Hoosier Helper who stopped to check a seemingly abandoned vehicle only to find its driver was actually suffering from a heart attack, the PBS crew captured hours of video. It typically takes three years to get enough footage for an hour-long show or ten hours of footage for one minute of decent, air worthy footage according to Jenson’s estimates. The PBS team captured footage for four and a half years that has been edited for the half hour documentary.

Beyond the roadway incidents and motorist assists, the crew also held interviews with assisted motorists including the Governor of Indiana and his wife “who had previously received assistance from the Hoosier Helpers” are interviewed in the documentary. The footage is filled with overwhelmingly positive reflections on the service provided and on the Hoosier Helpers themselves. “They aren’t just people going to work to make money, they’re people that are going to work in an industry that they absolutely love and they are specifically doing it to help people,” says Jenson about what he learned most from the experience. “They are a very rare breed of employee.”

Hoosier Helper Filming

The documentary titled "Who's your Helper?" got up close and personal with the Hoosier Helper drivers on the road.

Despite their presence on the roadway, many of Indiana’s motorists do not realize the Hoosier Helpers are there to assist them. The objective of this documentary for Jenson is to inform motorists of this service. “They are just out there purely to help people and it’s free, and you just don’t get that in this world.” The service he received and the Hoosier Helpers themselves are what spurred Jenson to pursue the documentary. “My main objective is to get them the recognition they so greatly deserve and I think this will do it.”

Jenson hopes the documentary is a success and can imagine a series of shows that follow the work of Safety Service Patrols. This version of “feel good” entertainment stands apart from more negatively branded television shows and documentaries currently available. The first test, of course, is popularity in the documentary’s home state and then depending on audience numbers, the documentary could become a national series.

Visit this link to learn more about the documentary including air times and ordering a DVD.


Back to Safe Highway Matters: Fall 2012

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