March 15, 1999, while teaching a class for the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, Deputy Michael Feinberg was alerted to a problem in a nearby pond at Kosciuszko Park. A child had broken through the ice and was in danger of drowning. Deputy Feinberg, who is thoroughly trained and is an instructor in many water safety and rescue techniques, including ice rescue, was faced with a 9-year-old boy. Michael Bruton was hanging on to an ice ledge with just his mittens and stocking cap showing. Deputy Feinberg gathered helpers from inside his class, grabbed an extension cord which he tied to himself as a lifeline, and went to the pond’s edge. Even knowing that he was not properly equipped to safely enter the water, Deputy Feinberg did just that. At first he was able to slide across the ice on his stomach, but soon broke through the thin ice and dropped to the bottom of the pond. Deputy Feinberg was able to push himself to the surface and continue forward by smashing a path towards the trapped boy with his fists. Little Michael Bruton’s condition grew worse by the second from being in the cold water. He was no longer able to help himself and could barely talk. Finally deputy Feinberg was able to get ahold of the boy and signaled to be pulled back to shore. The helpers pulled the extension cord until the Deputy’s gun belt caught on the edge of the ice. Although suffering from the effect of the cold water himself, Deputy Feinberg was able to muster the strength to free himself and get on top of the ice where he and little Michael were pulled the rest of the way to the hands of other rescuers. Michael Bruton’s temperature had dropped to a near fatal level, but through the hands of his rescuers and subsequent hospital stay, was able to recover and return home where he now has a second chance at life.
In the words of Chief Lawrence Gardner of the Milwaukee Fire Department, “…His quick actions, performed under pressure with composure and self-confidence, clearly resulted in a positive outcome of this near tragedy.”
Late in the morning of March 7, 2003, the LaCrosse Fire Department was dispatched to a house fire on State Street. To made matters worse, it was also reported that small children were trapped inside their burning home. Assistant Mechanic Gary Behrens and Lieutenant William Patza were faced with a terrible situation. Fire and smoke had filled the house and signs of flashover were very evident, but no one had found the missing girls yet. A ladder was placed to a low roof near the second floor window and these two firefighters climbed in to search for the young girls. What they found first was complete darkness and oppressive heat. Lieutenant Patza started searching to his left and soon came across an unconscious little girl. After bringing her to the window and placing her in the care of other firefighters, Lieutenant Patza went back to where he had left off and started searching again. After a few moments he found the second child and, as before, brought her to the window where her care was placed in the hands of other members of the team. Finally, Lieutenant Patza and Firefighter Behrens were able to leave the building themselves and retreat to the safety of the clear outside air. Once outside, they were assigned to go to the first floor and do a search there. Meanwhile, CPR was being administered to both of the little girls as they were rushed to the hospital. Sadly, neither of the young girls were able to survive their ordeal.
In a letter from the La Crosse Police Chief Edward Kondracki to Fire Chief Peter Stinson, he states, “Tell your firefighters that we are measured sometimes by how we perform when things are at their worst. It is easy for me to say that for La Crosse Firefighters, who were at the scene on March 7 were given the worst possible scenario. From what I saw your people were at their best! All that could be humanly done was done. I shall not forget what I saw that day…”