Giving the heroes a helping hand

Wisconsin town rallies for fire department after terrible blaze

When four different sets of sirens screamed past the tiny town of Gordon, many of its 700 residents knew something terrible had happened.

It wasn’t long before word spread that the fire department building — which had served months earlier as the nerve center during the biggest and most devastating Wisconsin wildfire in 30 years — was engulfed in flames.

A vital service to the community, the Gordon Fire Department provides medical first responders, structural and wild land protection, auto extraction, and emergency response. The 15 volunteer members dedicated to that service could do little more than watch, helpless, as the equipment critical to their mission burned.

“It was pretty unbelievable,” says Gordon Fire Department Chief Mike Chmielecki, recalling the devastating Sept. 17 blaze. “We’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of structure fires through the years, and to have the role reversed is pretty devastating.”

Built from metal with tin on the inside and outside, the structure was burning for some time before one of the garage doors melted, allowing the flames to escape and alert anyone to the blaze. It was too late to save anything; the cause remains unknown.

As six trucks, gear, and precious historical archives burned, the town rallied.

By day’s end, and well before the last embers were out, a local fundraiser was organized and donations pledged. Various Enbridge business units dug into their community investment budgets and came up with $25,000.

“To see that Enbridge pulls together their entire community of employees . . . we want to say thank you to everyone,” says Pam Boettcher, who, along with the town’s local tavern owners, organized the benefit that was held a couple of weeks later. “It was very overwhelming. It is still emotional for me, because you hear so much of the negative in the world and it takes a tragic occurrence to bring out the absolute best in all people — civic and business.”

Chief Chmielecki was also touched by offers of help, including the one from Enbridge – which, along with the town, depends upon the Gordon Fire Department for many of its Superior Region operations. Gordon also sits between two pump stations preparing for an upgrade. More importantly, many Enbridge employees and their families call the town home.

Adam Haakenson, a technician at the Superior Terminal, played a key role in coordinating support from Enbridge.

“A few years ago my mother had a heart attack and if it wasn’t for the volunteers (from the Gordon Fire Department) she wouldn’t be here today,” says Haakenson.

In addition to presenting the Enbridge donation at the fundraiser, Haakenson and his wife made and sold T-shirts during the benefit, which raised thousands more in proceeds.

“I grew up in Gordon and served on the Gordon and Wascott fire department,” he says. “I still have a strong tie to that area and most of the volunteers on the fire department are really close friends or family to me.”

Says Boettcher: “By being a good neighbor you get good neighbors. That is our motto.”