To the rescue

From left: Firefighters Lucas Erickson, Todd Swansby, Ryan Wilke, Arthur Gerpoltz, Forrest Lefler, Jacob White, Jacob Ross, Craig Schendel and Hunter Young, all with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department, are shown Oct. 3 after receiving the Department of the Army Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service at Fort McCoy. All were recognized for supporting flood-relief efforts in local communities in 2018.

Eight current and one former firefighter with the Directorate of Emergency Services Fire Department received the Department of the Army Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service on Oct. 3 for their work during an emergency flood response in local communities in 2018.

Garrison Commander Col. Hui Chae Kim presented the awards at Fire Station 1 in building 1680. Recognized were: Lucas Erickson, Arthur Gerpoltz, Forrest Lefler, Jacob Ross, Craig Schendel, Todd Swansby, Jacob White, Ryan Wilke, and Hunter Young.

“This was an honor for me,” Kim said. “Thank you to all of you for what you do.”

In late August 2018, some areas near Fort McCoy received nearly a foot of rain in less than 24 hours. That rain, in turn, caused massive flash flooding that overwhelmed several small communities near Fort McCoy.

As soon as the rain stopped, a call was made to DES Fire Department for mutual-aid support from the Sparta Fire Department. They responded with the personnel, boats, and vehicles to areas near Sparta, Melvina and Leon.

The award citation describes each firefighter’s contribution as “exceptional service and performance of duty.”

Each firefighter “responded with the fire and emergency response staff through treacherous and hazardous conditions in response to torrential flash flooding in Melvina, Leon and Sparta,” the citation states. Their “navigation of dangerous flash flood waters facilitated multiple rescues during recovery boat operations. The mutual aid recovery efforts for Monroe County resulted in 57 persons and 27 pets saved.”

“The biggest challenge in this environment is the fast-moving water,” Swansby said in 2018 after the response effort. “These kinds of floods are the most dangerous. I was just glad to be able to get those folks out safely. The positive result from this is that no one got hurt. We got everyone as well as their pets out safely.

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“I’d also like to add the volunteer fire departments played a huge role in all that was done. Those (folks) deserve so much credit for all they have done − they were incredible.”

According to Army Human Resources Command, the Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service is both an honorary and public service award presented by the Army to individuals who have distinguished themselves by meritorious direct “hands-on” participation in an act or operation of a humanitarian nature directed toward an individual or groups of individuals. Ross, who now works for the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport Fire Department, came back to attend the ceremony. He appreciated the recognition and the team he worked with to do the flood response.

“It was amazing to see what these guys did and how well they worked together,” Ross said. “The professionalism here is second to none. I was just proud to be a part of it.”

Wilke, like the other firefighters, was surprised of the recognition when they heard about it. He said to all of them the response was them doing what they’re supposed to do.

“It’s what we do. It’s what we train to do,” Wilke said. “When the call comes you just go.”

Lefler said that for himself, it wouldn’t have mattered to him if he was recognized. He said it was more about the others and what they accomplished.

“I can’t say enough about how good they are,” Lefler said.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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