On Tuesday, June 26, 1962, at 3:23 a.m., while on duty, City of Milwaukee patrolmen Robert Drakos and Robert Luczak discovered a rapidly spreading fire in the rear of a combination gas station and apartment on South 27th Street in Greenfield, WI. The officers radioed the fire to their dispatcher.
Although the fire had already found its way into the enclosed stairwell at the rear of the building, the officers were able to climb the stairs and after much difficulty, awoke the seven members of the Buchman family, five of which were children. But now, their exit was blocked as the flames had engulfed the only stairwell into the apartment. The family and the officers were trapped above the fire.
The officers used a phone from the apartment to call the Milwaukee Police Department for additional help. Before help came to them, officers Drakos and Luczak found a new exit at the front of the apartment and led the family through a kitchen window and onto an adjoining roof. A ladder was brought over to this roof and only after all the occupants had safely gotten to the ground, did the officers descend the ladder themselves. Another family member was living in the downstairs apartment and they were alerted to the fire and made their safe escape as well.
In the words of their Patrol Sergeant, Jerome Starke, “Both of these officers demonstrated their courage and above all, their ability to keep a cool head at a time when panic or indecision could have catastrophic results. These officers are to be commended.”
This rescue was made possible only by the grit and determination of two men, who without the aid of protective clothing, air packs, or hose lines, made their way through and above a fire that had the potential to put an early end to their lives as well as the lives of the seven members of the Buchman family.
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.