"Heroes are the people who do what has to be done, when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences."
"I was just doing my job"
The above words in blue describe heroes around the world. However, for those that have chosen to serve their communities as law enforcement officers and firefighters, the words you'll hear most often are the ones in italics. You won't find someone that has saved a life or changed a community through their efforts brag about it, or even talk about it in everyday conversation. They may quietly tell close family or friends what happened, but most often the stories become public knowledge from their co-workers, community, family and friends.
On these pages, you can read a bit more about the inductees of the State of Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame. These stories were not related by the person or persons themselves, but by those that live and serve with them. As you read through their stories, please remember the countless heroes that have not yet been recognized and may never be recognized publicly. For those that believe ALL of them should be recognized, remember that they need to be nominated by those that know the story, as they'd never nominate themselves. Again, the reason why is found in those six words.
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Read their Stories
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1998-1999 Inductees 2000-2001 Inductees 2005-2006 Inductees
August Erdmann became a fire fighter for the City of Milwaukee in 1964 and
retired as Chief of the Department in 1996. During his 32 years of service
Erdmann had been a witness to, and part of, many great incidents. Chief Erdmann
has many commendations in his file, among them two for having saved lives from
within burning buildings. However, throughout his years on the job he had become
increasingly disturbed by the number of fire deaths that were occurring every
year. After becoming Chief of the Department in 1989 Chief Erdmann decided to
address the problem in a very direct manner. He, along with the Bureau of
Instruction and Training, conceived an idea and it was titled project "FOCUS" or
"Fire fighters Out Creating Urban Safety"
In reviewing then-recent fire-related deaths, it was found that most of the citizen deaths occurred as a result of not having or not maintaining smoke detectors. The most affected areas of the community were mapped out and project FOCUS was put to work.
The unique concept of this program is that it uses fire department vehicles staffed by on-duty fire fighters for the purpose of fire prevention and education. Fire fighters go door-to-door to install smoke detectors and change batteries where needed, hand out information and discuss fire safety. This is a voluntary service to the public and they can choose to receive this assistance or not.
Since the introduction of this program, fire-related deaths in Milwaukee have decreased considerably. In the first eleven years of the program, only one fire-related death has taken place in a FOCUS home. The exact number of lives that have been saved by this program is not known, but it is safe to say that Chief August Erdmann's project FOCUS has been very successful and should be aggressively copied by other communities.
Kevin Sorenson 2001
November 17, 2001, Deputy Kevin Sorenson of the Portage County Sheriff’s
Department was on duty when at 1:30 a.m. he was dispatched to a one car accident
on Highway CC. The caller advised that the driver of the car was trapped,
unconscious, and had obvious injuries. While enroute to the scene, Deputy
Sorenson was advised that the car was on fire and that the driver was still
Nearly twelve minutes after the call came in, Deputy Sorenson arrived and found the wrecked car, off the roadway, with the engine compartment engulfed in flames which raged to four feet in height. Two civilians had been trying to put out the fire. Deputy Sorenson brought his fire extinguisher to the car and then saw the victim, Roche Rossier, partially ejected, hanging face down out of the driver’s window. Rossier's legs were trapped between the dashboard and the door. The flames were within one foot of Rossier’s body.
After making an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish the flames, Deputy Sorenson and civilian Michael Kaminski tried to remove Rossier from the burning car. Kaminski held Rossier's upper body while Deputy Sorenson worked at freeing Rossier's trapped legs. Once Rossier's legs had been freed, Deputy Sorenson and Kaminski removed Rossier from the still burning car and carried him to safety. At the side of the road, Deputy Sorenson immediately began a medical assessment and attended to Rossier's injuries. Portage County ambulance took over medical care and brought Rossier to the Steven's Point airport where they met the Spirit of Marshfield emergency helicopter. Rossier was then air lifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield, WI.
Although Roche Rossier has not fully recovered from the injuries he sustained that November night, he certainly would have died in his burning vehicle if not for the selfless actions of Michael Kaminski and Deputy Kevin Sorenson.
Mark Mernitz, Lyle Koerner, & Scott Burkart
Eau Claire Fire Department 1991
On June 13, 1991, at nearly 1:00 a.m., the Eau Claire Fire Department was called
to a house fire on Park Ridge Drive. Police officers on the scene reported to
the en route firefighters that there were still people trapped inside. Engine 9
arrived first and brought in a hose line to start extinguishing the fire. Engine
5, operated by Acting Engineer Mark Mernitz, arrived and pulled a second hose
line off of Engine 9 and went to the front door and started a right hand search.
Acting Lieutenant Lyle Koerner and Firefighter Scott Burkart of Engine 5 started the search on their hands and knees, as the smoke and heat overhead were still great. Crawling next to the wall, they entered the room where they had been told an infant was located. The baby was not found in the room, and this information was radioed to command. Koerner and Burkart went back into the smoke-filled hallway and continued on the right side. They encountered the closed door of another room, opened it, and started searching. Quickly, the young infant was found in a crib laying on his back and waving his hands in front of his face in an attempt to push away the smoke. Koerner yelled, "I found him!" to Burkart. Cradling 4-month-old Chad Behlke, Koerner grabbed the straps of Burkart's SCBA and quickly followed him out of the house. Once outside, they placed the baby in the care of an EMT. Meanwhile, Chad’s mother was being cared for by others for burns and cuts she received while trying to rescue her baby from the burning home. Chad was hospitalized for smoke inhalation, and both he and his mother recovered fully from their injuries.
In an interview with the Leader-Telegram, Burkart was quoted as saying, "The way I see it, Lyle (Koerner) carried the baby out. But everyone there made that rescue." The truth of this statement is evidenced by the actions taken by Eau Claire Fire Department members during this potentially fatal fire. The joyous result was the successful rescue of little Chad Behlke.
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Robert Drakos & Robert Luczak
Tuesday, June 26, 1962, at 3:23 a.m., while on duty, City of Milwaukee patrolmen
Robert Drakos and Robert Luczak discovered a rapidly spreading fire in the rear
of a combination gas station and apartment on South 27th Street in Greenfield,
WI. The officers radioed the fire in to their dispatcher.
Although the fire had already found its way into the enclosed stairwell at the rear of the building, the officers were able to climb the stairs and after much difficulty awoke the seven members of the Buchman family, five of which were children. But now their exit was blocked as flames had engulfed the only stairwell into the apartment. The family and the officers were trapped above the fire.
The officers used a telephone from the apartment to call the Milwaukee Police Department for additional help. Before help came to them, officers Drakos and Luczak found a new exit at the front of the apartment and led the family through a kitchen window and onto an adjoining roof. A ladder was brought over to this roof and only after all of the occupants had safely gotten to the ground did the officers descend the ladder themselves. Another family was living in the downstairs apartment and they were alerted to the fire and made their safe escape as well.
In the words of their Patrol Sergeant, Jerome Starke, “Both of these officers demonstrated their courage and above all, their ability to keep a cool head at a time when panic or indecision could have catastrophic results. These officers are to be commended.” This rescue was made possible only by the grit and determination of two men, who, without the aid of protective clothing, air packs, or hose lines, made their way through and above a fire that had the potential to put an early end to their lives as well as the lives of the seven members of the Buchman family.
Honorary Induction of All Members of
FIRE DEPARTMENT OF NEW YORK
NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT
NEW YORK / NEW JERSEY PORT AUTHORITY POLICE
8:47 a.m., September 11, 2001. The
first of a premeditated series of attacks against the United States of America
took place as a hijacked commercial airplane was flown directly into the North
Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Fifteen minutes later a second
hijacked airplane was similarly flown into the South Tower. A third plane had
been overtaken by terrorists and flown into the Pentagon. In the skies above
Ohio a fourth airplane was hijacked and was heading towards Washington, D.C.
when the passengers heroically fought back, took the flight control away from
the hijackers, and crashed the plane into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
From within the catastrophically damaged buildings of the World Trade Center, thousands of people from many nations struggled to escape the withering towers and reach safety. While these thousands of men and women pushed toward the exits they were met by hundreds going into and up towards the inferno which was raging overhead. These brave souls were members of the New York fire Department, Police Department and the Port Authority Police. They brought with them air packs, hoses, tools, radios, and in many cases just the badge pinned to their shirts. One item they all carried was a duty to protect and serve and with that the faith that binds the brothers and sisters of the protective services.
In just over an hour both 110 story towers collapsed, severely damaging several other buildings around them, many of which later fell themselves. This left a debris field of unimaginable proportions. Then began a search for survivors and a recovery effort, the enormity of which has never been undertaken before. Members of these three organizations conducted a search through "The Pile" which lasted for many months in an effort to bring home as many of their brothers and sisters as was humanly possible.
This attack on America took the lives of over 3,000 people. Of this number, 343 were members of the FDNY, 23 were members of the NYPD, and 37 members of the PAPD.
Today, September 13, 2002 we are honorarily inducting into the State of Wisconsin Fire and Police Hall of Fame, the members of these three organizations who selflessly and bravely responded to the World Trade Center site in both the initial rescue and the subsequent recovery effort.
Gary Behrens & William Patza
LaCrosse Fire Department
Late in the morning of March 7, 2003 the La Crosse Fire Department was dispatched to a house fire on State Street. To make matters worse it was also reported that small children were trapped inside their burning home. Assistant Mechanic Gary Behrens and Lieutenant William Patza were faced with a terrible situation. Fire and smoke had filled the house and signs of flashover were very evident but no one had found the missing girls yet. A ladder was placed to a low roof near the second floor window and these two firefighters climbed in to search for the young girls. What they found first was complete darkness and oppressive heat. Lieutenant Patza started searching to his left and soon came across an unconscious little girl.
After bringing her to the window and placing her in the care of other firefighters Lieutenant Patza went back to where he had left off and started searching again. After a few moments he found the second child and as before brought her to the window where her care was placed in the hands of other members of the team. Finally Lieutenant Patza and Firefighter Behrens were able to leave the building themselves and retreat to the safety of the clear outside air. Once outside they were assigned to go to the first floor and do a search there. Meanwhile CPR was being administered to both of the little girls as they were rushed to the hospital. Sadly, neither of the young girls were able to survive their ordeal.
In a letter from La Crosse Police Chief Edward Kondracki to Fire Chief Peter Stinson he states: “Tell your firefighters that we are measured sometimes by how we perform when things are at there worst. It is easy for me to say that for La Crosse Firefighters, who were at the scene on March 7 were given the worst possible scenario. From what I saw your people were at their best! All that could be humanely done was done. I shall not forget what I saw that day...”
Michael Feinberg Milwaukee County Sheriff Department
March 15, 1999, while teaching a class for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Michael Feinberg was alerted to a problem in a nearby pond at Kosciuszko Park. A child had broken through the ice and was in danger of drowning. Deputy Feinberg, who is thoroughly trained and is an instructor in many water safety and rescue techniques, including ice rescue, was faced with a 9 year old boy, Michael Bruton hanging on to an ice ledge with just his mittens and stocking cap showing. Deputy Feinberg gathered helpers from his class and grabbed an extension cord which he tied to himself as a lifeline and went to the ponds edge.
Even knowing that he
was not properly equipped to safely enter the water Deputy Feinberg did just
that. At first he was able to slide across the ice on his stomach but he soon
broke through the thin ice and dropped to the bottom of the pond. Deputy
Feinberg was able to push himself to the surface and continue forward by
smashing a path towards the trapped boy with his fists. Little Michael Bruton’s
condition grew worse by the second from being in the cold water. He was no
longer able to help himself and could barely talk. Finally Deputy Feinberg was
able to get hold of the boy and signaled to be pulled back to shore. The helpers
pulled the extension cord until the Deputy’s gun belt caught on the edge of the
ice. Although suffering from the effects of the cold water himself Deputy
Feinberg was able to muster the strength to free himself and get on top of the
ice where he and little Michael were then pulled the rest of the way to the
hands of other rescuers. Michael Bruton’s temperature had dropped to a near
fatal level but through the hands of his rescuers and subsequent hospital stay,
was able to recover and return home where he now has his second chance at life.
In the words of Chief Lawrence Gardner of the Milwaukee Fire Department: “...His quick actions, performed under pressure with composure and self-confidence, clearly resulted in a positive outcome of this near tragedy.”
Richard Lindauer Madison Fire Department
"He is a rare find who
has a matchless record in regards to the amount of passion, dedication, heart
and hours that he has put into providing good will amongst children, families
and firefighters.” This quote from Madison Firefighter’s Local 311 is a
summation of a very lengthy yet much abbreviated letter describing Richard
“Lindy” Lindauer of the Madison Fire Department. “His four decades of commitment
have spanned three generations of families. He has had a half a million children
and adult lap sitters reveal their Christmas wishes to him. He has made annual
appearances at community centers, low income neighborhoods, tree lightings, and
has visited countless thousands of hospitalized children, many that would be
experiencing their last Christmas.” “To those of us that have been on “Santa’s
Hospital Visits” we can tell you that it is an awakening for all involved. The
love, caring and sincerity that “Santa” bestows on each individual child and
their families evokes emotions throughout the hospital and inspires everyone in
attendance. No one can energize a room quite like Lindy does.” These quotes and
many more like it come from a few of the countless individuals whom Lindy’s
efforts have touched. Both those that he has given his helping hand to and to
those whom he has guided and taught to help others.
During his 35 years of service with the Madison Fire Department Lindy served every day of his career with the same passion and enthusiasm that he displayed while being Santa. From public fire education, to developing senior citizen safety programs, to teaching young drivers how to respond when encountering emergency vehicles and being part of a nationally recognized cold water rescue and resuscitation Lindy has taken “community service” to a degree far beyond what anyone would ever expect from any individual.
Richard Pukema & Gary Graveson
Superior Police Department
November 8, 1980,
while enjoying a routine morning patrol, Superior Police Officer Gary Graveson
came upon an accident near Belknap Shores in Superior. What he found was a car
entirely submerged in St. Louis Bay, Just a glow of the taillights and part of
the roof was able to be seen below the surface of the near freezing water.
Officer Graveson radioed for additional help. Answering the call was Superior
Police Officer Richard Pukema. With the water at a near freezing 36 degrees and
the air temperature at 32 degrees something had to be done that no one there was
properly prepared to do. The officers attached safety ropes to themselves and to
two civilians who had also stopped to help. Officers Pukema, Graveson and the
two helpers entered the water and climbed onto the top of the vehicle. The
chilling effect of the water was immediately felt, as Officer Graveson said
“...it was like being hit with a sledge hammer...all of the air was instantly
sucked out of my lungs.” A window punch was used to break open the rear window.
They were not able to reach the trapped man through this opening and this effort
only resulted in both officers becoming submerged in the icy water. Officer
Pukema then broke through the drivers window and reaching deeply into the car
got a slight hold of the trapped man, Eugene Rasmussen, and pulled him through
the window to the waters surface. Unconscious and appearing lifeless Mr.
Rasmussen was brought to the roof of his car where CPR was started. This proved
very difficult so a safety rope was quickly secured around Mr. Rasmussen.
Officer Pukema suffering from hypothermia himself put his nearly frozen arms
around Mr. Rasmussen and they were both pulled to shore. Now put into the hands
of Douglas County Paramedics it was verified that Mr. Rasmussen was clinically
dead. CPR and other rescue efforts continued while he was transported to a
Due in part to a miracle but mostly through the selfless and heroic actions of Officers Graveson and Pukema and two citizens, Eugene Rasmussen not only survived but went on to recover from his ordeal in the waters off Lake Superior
Michael Woodzicka & Patrick Kearney
Appleton Fire Department
In the early morning hours of May
4th, 2002, the Appleton Fire Department was dispatched to a house fire on Badger
Avenue. Several 911 calls were being made and it was reported that two people
might still be inside the burning building. Engine 325 with Lieutenant Michael
Woodzicka and his crew arrived to find fire engulfing the front porch and
working its way into the rest of the house. Although their concerns for the
missing occupants were paramount it was just as important to stop the spread of
the growing fire. Pulling a hose line from their engine, Lt. Woodzicka and his
crew first knocked down some of the fire in the front porch and then started
searching the first floor while they looked to find a stairway to the second
floor, as this was the most likely place for the victims to be.
Meanwhile Truck 341 arrived and was assigned to assist in the search for the missing people. Firefighter Patrick Kearney, of Truck 341, was now feeling his way up the stairs, through the thick black smoke, to the second floor. As he reached a landing in the stairwell he heard a call for assistance from Lieutenant Woodzicka who had found a door on the second floor that was being blocked shut from something on the inside. Together they were able to push the door open and get inside the room. There, lying unconscious, was twenty-year old Stephanie Lindsley. Lieutenant Woodzicka and Firefighter Kearney carried her downstairs and brought her outside where it was discovered that she was barely breathing. Gold Cross ambulance paramedics took over her care and brought her to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where she began her recovery.
Work still needed to be done as one person was not yet accounted for. Fire crews continued their search efforts looking for the missing man. Fortunately, he had been able to get out of the burning home himself and was safe outside where he was being attended to by police officers.
Through their unrelenting and focused efforts, Lieutenant Woodzicka and Firefighter Kearney were able to rescue Stephanie Lindsley from her smoke filled home and since then she has been able to enjoy a full recovery from the ordeal that nearly took her life.
Wendell Rice Platteville Volunteer Fire Department
"Man, here’s a guy who has 40 years
of service on the department, he must not be very active any more.” These were
the thoughts of David Izzard of the Platteville Volunteer Fire Department, when
he had first met Wendell Rice. And this was over ten years ago.
With over fifty years of volunteer service with the Platteville Volunteer Fire Department, Wendell Rice continues to be one of the most active firefighters in his community. In just the past five years alone Wendell has continually been one of the top five active members of the department, having responded to 95% of their fire calls and attending 99% of the department’s training sessions and meetings.
His selfless dedication has been an inspiration to both those who have been fortunate enough to serve with him, as well as to all of those whom he has been called upon to serve.
Wendell Rice’s activities with the department and his community have not been limited to fighting fires. Wendell Rice has spent 42 years as a Grant County Special deputy and was a 19 year member of the Platteville Police Department. He assisted in establishing their EMS program, participates in many fire prevention programs, assists in raising funds to operate the department, volunteers for the Chamber of Commerce and has provided maintenance for the town’s fire equipment for many years, especially for his favorite, “Old #3”, a 1976 Ford pumper which still shines as brightly today as it did the day it first backed into the station.
As written by Dorothy Genthe, Platteville City Council President: “Wendell Rice is another name for the term, dedication. Wendell has dedicated fifty years of service to our Volunteer fire Department...
He sets an example for his fellow firemen, always going the extra mile in his own quit way to do the duties for our volunteer service.
Wendell is an excellent mentor, a conscientious trainer and a leader par excellence. One wonders what his next fifty years will produce for our fire department...”
Ronald Mayer Franklin Fire Department
On the evening of
February 18, 2002, the Franklin Fire Department was dispatched to a fire at the
Whitnall View motel on Lovers Lane Road. Battalion Chief Ronald Mayer was the
first to arrive at the motel. Seeing heavy smoke coming out of one of the rooms
and a crowd gathering in front of the one story building, Battalion Chief Mayer
called for additional fire units. He also saw a man crawling out of the room.
This man, the motel owner, had been trying to get inside the room to find the
man that was believed to still be inside. Doing his best to get to where the man
was believed to be he could not quite get there. The blistering heat and the
deadly black smoke forced him out on every attempt.
Knowing that the first arriving engine company was still minutes away and that a few of the bystanders were making plans to try another rescue attempt, Battalion Chief Mayer decided to try to get to the imperiled man himself. Crawling along the floor to the far side of the hot, smoke filled room, Battalion Chief Mayer was able to get to the side of a bed where he found a 53 year-old man, lying unconscious on the floor. Stopping momentarily to radio in the situation, Battalion Chief Mayer then dragged the man out of the building to the safety of the cold, outside air. Once outside he got him covered with a blanket and found that he was barely breathing. Staying with the man, Battalion Chief Mayer directed the firefighting operations from that location until paramedics arrived to take over his care.
Not only did the heroic actions of Battalion Chief Ronald Mayer save the life of the man, who suffered from smoke inhalation and received second and third degree burns over 28% of his body, but he most likely saved some well meaning by-standers from injury or death by preventing them from entering the burning room as well.
All of these people were nominated by their peers, family, or other citizens for extraordinary acts of bravery, lifetime achievements in their field, or exceptional service to their community.
We know there are others deserving of this honor.
HELP US RECOGNIZE THEM.
c/o Superior Fire Department
Superior, WI 54880
1998-1999 Inductees 2000-2001 Inductees 2005-2006 Inductees