Appleton Fire Department
In the early morning hours of December 29, 2007, the Appleton Fire Department was dispatched to a structure fire in an older, wooden duplex. The crews answering the call for help first had to navigate through the icy city streets, which were covered in freshly fallen snow. The original message given to the firefighters was that everyone was out of the house, but when crews arrived, they were met by a woman who was frantically pleading with them to get to her four young children who were still inside the home.
The woman, Tricia Dunster, had just been rescued from the basement of her burning home by her upstairs neighbors who had pulled her out of the house through a broken basement window. Now bleeding from being cut by broken glass, she tried to get to her children, but the smoke and heat prevented this mother’s greatest efforts to get in and recue them.
Driver/Engineer Doug Vrechek and Firefighter Mike Becker were at the front door, tasked with entering the house to search for the children. With visibility near zero and the unchecked fire burning below them, Vrecheck and Becker made their way inside and found the front bedroom, where two of the four children, Kailey and Aailiyah were sleeping.
Lieutenant Mike Woodzicka and Captain Frederick James were also making their way into the house to search for the trapped children. They went into the dark, untenable house, where they found another bedroom, where, fortunately, the 15-month-old twins, Brayden and Brycen were found.
Each of these four firefighters now held a young child in their arms and they quickly carried them outside where they then attended to their medical needs.
After treatment at the hospital for their injuries, the four young children and their mother were all released and went on to recover from this life-threatening ordeal.
Deputy Fire Chief Reece summed up this call in one line: “Without the courage and diligent work of these four individuals conducting the search and rescue operations, the outcome of this fire could have been tragic.”