Wisconsin DNR assists town after fire destroys Madeline Island fire hall

Wisconsin DNR assists town after fire destroys Madeline Island fire hall Photo: Wisconsin DNR

March 12, 2019 02:03 PM

After a fire destroyed the lone fire hall on Madeline Island in early March, the Wisconsin DNR stepped in to help the island.

When the fire broke out on March 6, volunteer firefighters from Bayfield, Red Cliff, Washburn and Ashland responded, but could only bring relatively light "brush trucks," according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, because the ice wasn't thick enough to support the weight of fire engines.


In the end, the Town of LaPointe, which is the town on Madeline Island, lost all its firefighting and emergency rescue equipment. It was left without fire trucks, ambulance and SCBAs, the "self-contained breathing apparatus" tanks firefighters use to enter burning structures.

Then Mark Guenther, a forestry technician with the Wisconsin DNR and a volunteer on the Washburn Fire Department, made a call. By the end of the next day, the DNR had moved two of its Type 4 wildland firefighting engines across the ice to offer protection, at no cost, for the island residents while their fire department rebuilds.

Related: Fire destroys fire hall on Madeline Island

"Local rural fire departments work closely with us in forest fire suppression," said Fred Souba, the DNR chief state forester. "We felt we needed to support them in their time of need."

The DNR was able to use old surplus engines that were awaiting auction after newer units arrived, and then managed to get it across the ice to the island -- a tricky task, given each engine weighs 9 tons when empty.

And, out of concern for the lower pumping capacity of the units, the DNR also loaned its new Washburn engine to the island, and even added new nameplates for the trucks.

"We re-badged them, so they even have 'La Pointe Fire Department' on the doors," said Amanda Firkus, a DNR crew member at Tomahawk.

Other departments in the area have also loaned the island an ambulance and a brush fire truck, and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, which has a Fire and Technical Rescue program at Ashland, delivered a trailer full of firefighting equipment including the SCBA air packs, as well as the cascade air fill system to refill them, among other items, the department told the DNR. They now have complete gear for 18 of their firefighters. And, until they get their own trucks, they have two DNR fire engines on loan to fight structure fires.

"We're very isolated up here," Nathan Nelson, a firefighter said. "It can take 45 minutes for help to arrive from the mainland. This will help for sure. It's been overwhelming the support we've been getting."

It's unclear how long it might take for the department to rebuild after the fire.

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