Eau Claire Fire Department
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 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 to start 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 lying on his back, waving his hands in front of his face in an attempt to push away the smoke. Koerner yelled, “I found him!” 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 care 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 the recue.” The truth of this statement is evident by the actions taken by the Eau Claire Fire Department members during this potentially fatal fire. The joyous result was the successful rescue of little Chad Behlke.