Richard Pukema & Gary Gravesen

Superior Police Department

November 8, 1980, while enjoying a routine morning patrol, Superior Police Officer Gary Gravesen came upon an accident near Belknap Shores in Superior.  What he found was a car entirely submerged in St. Louis Bay.  Just a glow of the taillights and part of the roof could be seen below the surface of the near freezing water.  Officer Gravesen radioed for additional help.  Answering the call was Superior Police Officer Richard Pukema.  With the water at a near freezing 36 degrees and the air temperature at 32 degrees, something had to be done that no one there was properly prepared to do.  The officers attached safety ropes to themselves and to two citizens who had also stopped to help.  Officers Pukema, Gravesen, and the two helpers entered the water and climbed onto the top of the vehicle.  

The chilling effect of the water was immediately felt, as Officer Gravesen said, “…it was like being hit with a sledge hammer … all of the air was instantly sucked out of my lungs.”  A window punch was used to break open the rear window.  They were not able to reach the trapped man through this opening and this effort only resulted in both officers becoming submerged in the icy water.  Officer Pukema then broke through the driver’s window and reaching deeply into the car got a slight hold of the trapped man.  Eugene Rasmussen was pulled through the window to the water’s surface.  Unconscious and appearing lifeless, Mr. Rasmussen was brought to the roof of his car where CPR was started.  This proved very difficult, so a safety rope was quickly secured around Mr. Rasmussen.  Officer Pukema, suffering from hypothermia himself, put his nearly frozen arms around Mr. Rasmussen and they were both pulled to shore.  Now put into the hands of Douglas County Paramedics, it was verified that Mr. Rasmussen was clinically dead.  CPR and other rescue efforts continued while he was transported to a nearby hospital.

Due in part to a miracle, but mostly through the selfless and heroic actions of Officers Pukema, Gravesen, and two citizens, Eugene Rasmussen not only survived, but also went on to recover from his ordeal in the waters off Lake Superior.

Richard D. Lindauer

Madison Fire Department

“He is a rare find who has a matchless record in regards to the amount of passion, dedication, heart and hours that he has put into providing good will amongst children, families, and firefighters.”  This quote from Madison Firefighter’s Local 311 is a summation of a very lengthy yet much abbreviated letter describing Richard “Lindy” Lindauer of the Madison Fire Department.  “His four decades of commitment have spanned three generations of families.  He has had a half a mission children and adult lap sitters reveal their Christmas wishes to him.  He has made annual appearances at community centers, low-income neighborhoods, tree lightings, and has visited countless thousands of hospitalized children, many that would be experiencing their last Christmas.”  “To those of us that have been on “Santa’s Hospital Visits,” we can tell you that it is an awakening for all involved.  

The love, caring and sincerity that “Santa” bestows on each individual child and their families evokes emotions throughout the hospital and inspires everyone in attendance.  No one can energize a room quite like Lindy does.”  These quotes and many more like it come from a few of the countless individuals whom Lindy’s efforts have touched, both those that he has given his helping had to and to those whom he has guided and taught to help others.

During his 35 years of service with the Madison Fire Department, Lindy served every day of his career with the same passion and enthusiasm that he displayed while being Santa.  From public fire education, to developing senior citizen safety programs, to teaching young drivers how to respond when encountering emergency vehicles and being part of a nationally recognized cold water rescue and resuscitation team, Lindy has taken “community service” to a degree far beyond what anyone would ever expect from any individual.

Michael Feinberg

Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department

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.”

Gary Behrens & William Patza

LaCrosse Fire Department

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…”

Hero Stories