Wisconsin fire chief hospitalized with COVID-19, community comes together to help the family
A western Wisconsin community is rallying around its fire chief, who has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for 24 days.
Fire Chief Don Kittelson is a third-generation firefighter who has served the Clayton Fire Department for 34 years. The small, rural village is about an hour northeast of the Twin Cities.
Kittelson’s family said he contracted the virus following an exposure to his wife in late October. The 55-year-old man with no underlying health conditions developed significant difficulty breathing and was initially admitted to Amery Hospital in Wisconsin. He was transported to Regions Hospital in St. Paul on Nov. 10 and has been in the ICU on a ventilator ever since, ultimately developing pneumonia and meningitis.
"He’s a big guy, he’s strong, so to see him so helpless, it’s really hard," said his wife, Jenny Kittelson. "This is not something we would ever dream of going through."
In addition to being fire chief at a volunteer fire department, Kittelson is also a milk truck driver. His wife said he has not been able to work for about a month due to his illness.
His fire department is now stepping up to support the family.
"Here’s our chance, not by choice, but our chance to give back to him and show him what he has done for us," said Second Assistant Fire Chief Jenny Bergmann of the Clayton Fire Department.
The department started selling yard signs for $20, with a message that reads: ‘We support Chief Don… Come home safe.’ The proceeds will go to the Kittelson family to help with lost income and other expenses.
"The signs, we thought, 75 will be perfect. It will work out great, it will cover our community and our department. Well, we have already reached over 300 and who would have ever thought? And we have more coming this week because we ran out," Bergmann said.
Neighboring fire departments who provide mutual aid to the Clayton Fire Department on fire scenes also stepped up to help, each department donating $500.
"It’s really surreal, actually. It’s unbelievable," Jenny Kittelson said.
The family and fire department hopes the signs around town will be a touching sight for the chief when he is finally discharged from the hospital, although at this point, they do not know when his condition will improve enough to return home.
"What we can do, because we’re not doctors and miracle workers, we are going to show as much support as we can," Bergmann said.
Click here; if you would like to purchase one of the yard signs, send a message to the Clayton Fire Department on Facebook. If you would like to donate to the family, there will be details on how to do so posted on the Facebook page as well.