Fort McCoy Firefighters Aid Local Flood Response, Relief Efforts

August 30, 2018

Fort McCoy firefighters sprang into action to help local emergency response agencies deal with the aftermath of an Aug. 27 storm that dumped up to 12 inches of rain and caused extensive flooding and damage.

As soon as the storm passed, the Sparta Fire Department requested aid from the post’s fire department, said Station Chief Forrest Lefler.

“We sent firefighters and equipment over to Sparta to help clear debris and clean up,” Lefler said.

After two hours of helping clear up areas of Sparta, the Fort McCoy firefighters returned to pos,t but they weren’t there for long. Early Aug. 28, they received a request from the Cashton Volunteer Fire Department to help rescue stranded residents near Melvina, Wisconsin.

“We went to Melvina because the flash flooding was getting bad,” said Fort McCoy firefighter Todd Swansby. “We went there with four firefighters, our skimmer boat and a truck to pull the boat.”

The skimmer boat is 20 feet long with a water jet-propelled engine. The boat can operate in 6 inches of water, Lefler said. The firefighter team arrived to Melvina quickly, and were able to launch the boat swiftly to rescue four people from an apartment building.

“The biggest challenge in this environment is the fast-moving water,” Swansby said. “These kinds of floods are the most dangerous. … I was just glad to be able to get those folks out safely.”

Rescuing People

Lefler said that after they rescued the first two people from the apartment building, they knew they were dealing with some tough conditions.

“When you’re doing this, the adrenaline in you is pumping and you are focused,” he said. “After we got those first two folks to safety, we had to catch our breath and take a break just for a couple of minutes. … When we went back to get the other two people, it went quickly.”

The Fort McCoy firefighter team continued its work around Melvina for more than two hours. On their way back from that city, they were called to support rescue operations in Leon and Sparta, which are about 10 miles from Melvina.

“We were at a gas station near Sparta, got called, and we went right back at it,” Lefler said.

Fort McCoy’s fire department sent more people and equipment to support the Leon and Sparta flood-rescue operations, including a 12-foot skiff with an outboard motor and the department’s dive boat, also equipped with an outboard motor. The total flood rescue support now included eight firefighters, three boats, and four support vehicles.

The Fort McCoy firefighters were among dozens of emergency responders from numerous agencies in Monroe County and neighboring counties. In Leon, Lefler said, Fort McCoy personnel helped rescue eight people and one pet.

Swansby said a rescue from a one-story home where the water was flowing in and rising was one he’ll not soon forget.

“We made it to this house where there was a senior person and her granddaughter,” Swansby said. “The basement had failed on this house, and the water was moving so fast. We got the granddaughter to the boat first, and then we went to get her grandmother.

“She had an injured arm and was having a hard time getting through the water,” he said. “It was difficult getting her to the boat, but we did it even as the water was rising around us. … We are always encouraging to these victims, and we try to put on a brave face. What they might not see is that we are just as scared as they are, and in this instance, I was scared because that water was just rushing past so fast.”

The firefighters spent most of Aug. 28 helping with emergency response operations in Leon and Sparta, Lefler said.

Swansby said many of the families they helped were still in the process of repairing their homes from floods last summer.

“The positive result from this is that no one got hurt,” Swansby said. “We got everyone, as well as their pets, out safely. I’d also like to add the volunteer fire departments played a huge role in all that was done. Those folks deserve so much credit for all they have done — they were incredible.”

Kelli Henke of Leon used a Facebook post to thank the Fort McCoy firefighters “A huge thank you to them for the boat ride to drier ground today. … You guys are very much appreciated,” she wrote.

Personnel who supported the flood-rescue operations, in addition to Lefler and Swansby, were Station Chief Hunter Young and firefighters Ryan Wilke, Luke Erickson, Craig Schendel, Art Gerpoltz, Jake Ross and Jake White.

‘They All Did a Great Job’

“They all did a great job,” said Fort McCoy Fire Chief Tim Jorgenson. As of yesterday in Leon, Sparta, and Melvina, rescuers had helped to save 57 people and 27 pets from the floodwaters.

The installation also provided support to the Monroe County Emergency Operations Center, where the Fort McCoy garrison commander exercised immediate response authority by working with the 88th Readiness Division’s Equipment Concentration Site-67 to provide a 5-ton M1083 medium tactical vehicle to support further rescue and recovery operations.

The county requested the vehicle because a similar vehicle became inoperable, and they needed to maintain the capability. The all-wheel-drive M1083 is designed to allow the truck to navigate through high water.

Airfield Services at the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport on South Post was ready to support refueling operations for Wisconsin National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters that flew officials to review flood damage from the air.

Jorgenson said Fort McCoy will continue to support the flood relief and recovery operations.