On June 29, 1979, two boys, 12 and 14 years old, were out for an afternoon swim at Duncan Creek below the Glen Lock Dam in Chippewa Falls. Duncan Creek was rising more than six inches each hour because of the movement of floodwater, which hit Bloomer earlier that morning.
The 12-year-old boy had walked along the ledge of the dam by the rocks on the Irving Park side of the creek and then swam about 10 feet to the second ledge of the dam, which was covered by a rock overhang. Once out on the ledge, the boy was afraid to swim back to where he started because of the churning water caused by the increasing volume of floodwater. The 14-year-old swam out to his friend’s location to assist him, but once out there, neither boy was able to swim back to a safe location. Rescue personnel were summoned by bystanders to rescue the boys. At about 2pm, several rescue attempts to reach the boys were tried but failed. Reserve Sheriff’s deputy David Gee and a Chippewa County Deputy cautiously made their way along the ledge of the dam and proceeded to swim to the second ledge. Reserve Deputy Gee, wearing just a life vest and with a simple manila rope tied around his waist, was able to get ahold of the 12-year-old around his waist. The two then ended up in the turbulent water and were pulled under by the undertow that had been created by the rushing floodwaters. Finally, other rescue personnel were able to pull them back downstream and to shore using the rope.
Attempt after attempt was made to rescue the 14-year-old. During one of these rescue attempts, the youth plunged into the water. Initially, rescue workers feared the youth was lost, however the current carried the youth back to the rocks and he was able to grab onto the ledge of the dam.
Reserve Deputy Gee again with a rope tied around him, made his way along the dam’s ledge into the cold water. The 14-year-old boy was able to grab onto the rope and Reserve Deputy Gee was able to grab the youth. The other rescue workers again pulled both to safety. Reports indicate that the water was already up to the youth’s neck, and within another hour, the boys most likely would have drowned. Reserve Deputy Fee, for his efforts, was left for several weeks with burn marks around his waist where the rope that had been tied to him had burned into his skin.
The effort of the entire group of ambulance personnel and other emergency service workers was instrumental in saving these two youths from certain drowning. However, Reserve Deputy Gee displayed exemplary actions of bravery that afternoon that led to the successful rescue of these two boys.
On May 6, 1979, shortly before midnight, a call for a passerby started the Manitowoc Fire Department out to a fire on Chicago Street. Lieutenant Robert Burtard was the officer in charge of Engine 1. Engine 1 was located less than a mile from the scene of the fire.
Arriving on the scene, Lt. Burtard found a two-story apartment house with fire burning in the rear. The enclosed stairway was impassable and the fire was quickly moving toward the front of the apartment. In the front, 69-year-old Mayme Rodney was screaming for help while struggling to keep her head out of the window as heavy black smoke was pouring out around her. The fire had already entered her room and the temperature was rising quickly, bringing with it a real possibility of flashover. Ms. Rodney’s life was in peril and quick action was needed in order to try and save her. The crew of Engine 1 raised a ladder to Ms. Rodney’s window, and Lt. Burtard decided that time for her was critical that he could not afford to get his SCBA from the engine. Lt. Burtard climbed the ladder and as he tried to get ahold of her, she dropped to the floor. Now, Lt. Burtard, without his mask, was forced to lean deep into the black, acrid smoke that was pouring out of the window and try to get ahold of her. Finally, Lt. Burtard was able to grasp the woman and pull her up onto the ladder. With the help of Firefighter Gerald Keehan, Lt. Burtard brought Ms. Rodney down the ladder to the ground below, where they all collapsed.
Ms. Rodney was brought by ambulance to Holy Family Memorial Medical Center where she was treated for smoke inhalation and 2nd degree burns which covered 15% of her body. Ms. Rodney survived her injuries. Lt. Burtard also suffered from smoke inhalation and was taken to the hospital. Lt. Burtard did recover, and continued to work until his retirement in 1994, after an exemplary 32-year career.
Lt. Burtard knew that he could suffer serious injury and long-term damage to his health. It was a case where a firefighter put his life on the line to save a civilian. According to Charles Herzig, who was working at this fire for a private ambulance service, later began working for the Manitowoc Fire Department, eventually becoming chief: “It took great courage, outstanding physical ability, and utter determination to save this lady.” And in the vernacular of the fire service he says, “I have never seen a gutsier move.”