La Crosse Fire Department
At 12:50am, September 15, 2005, the La Crosse Fire Department was dispatched to a structure fire with a report of trapped occupants in a home on Mississippi Street. Firefighter Blane Neher was assigned to the Heavy Rescue. While going to his truck, he grabbed the department’s thermal imaging camera. Firefighter Neher and the other three members of his crew jumped into the Heavy Rescue and headed to the fire.
When the Rescue arrived at the house, they found fire and black smoke coming from the house. Firefighter Neher and his officer went to the front door while the other two members of the Rescue set up for RIC (Rapid Intervention Crew). La Crosse police officers met Neher and his officer at the front door and told them that they had already assisted some people out of the house, but there was still someone inside. The police officers had tried to get inside to rescue the last person from the burning home, but worsening conditions inside the house stopped them. The officers also reported that flames were now coming out of another part of the house. Neher’s officer went to check that part of the house to see how the fire condition had changed.
Now Firefighter Neher was alone at the front door when he heard someone screaming for help from within the burning home. Fully understanding the situation, being alone, without a hoseline, but also hearing a desperate cry for help, Firefighter Neher donned his mask, a thermal imaging camera, and his Halligan bar, and went into the black smoke-filled home to search for the person who had been calling out for help.
As he entered the home, Firefighter Neher could feel tremendous heat and noticed the kitchen to his right was fully involved. He continued down the hallway and yelled to the victim, hoping to hear some response. The victim was able to yell back, urging him to hurry. Using the thermal imaging camera to see through the putrid smoke, he was able to find the victim. She was lying in a hospital bed in the family’s living room. She informed Firefighter Neher that she was unable to walk and that he would have to carry her out. He reassured her, got her out of her bed, and began to drag her to safety. However, the door he had used for entry was now closed and the visibility was decreasing even more. Firefighter Neher kept a level head and was able to locate a doorway that brought them outside the burning home and out to the other firefighters who then took over her care.
Although there were many firefighters working this fire, Firefighter Neher was faced with a difficult decision; to enter a burning home alone, without a hoseline, and then have the strength and levelheaded reaction to save a woman who was unable to help herself.