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First Responder Building Explodes Overnight

A predawn explosion and fire leveled the first responders’ building on Madeline Island on Wednesday.

La Pointe, WI – A predawn explosion and fire leveled the first responders’ building on Madeline Island on Wednesday.

The building housed the community’s ambulance service and fire department, and also had a sleeping quarter for the city’s three full-time police officers, the Ashland Daily Press reported.

No one was injured in the catastrophic blast, but one of the officers had just left the building not even two hours earlier, the Superior Telegram reported.

He would have been sleeping inside the building at the time of the explosion if the ice on the surface of the surrounding Lake Superior wasn’t thick enough to drive home on that night.

“Luckily, because we had an ice road [between the island and the mainland], the officer working last night was able to go home,” La Pointe Town Administrator Lisa Potswald explained.

A La Pointe firefighter who lives near the building reported the explosion at 2:50 a.m.

Within 10 minutes, fire departments from communities on the mainland flocked to the scene, the Ashland Daily Press reported.

Because of the weight of the trucks, it was only safe to send smaller vehicles with lower pumping capacity across the ice, Ashland Fire Chief Wayne Chenier explained.

In order to access more water for the smaller trucks, firefighters ended up cutting a hole in the ice to pump water into the flames, he said.

By 3:30 a.m., all that remained of the building was half of one of its walls, according to Potswald.

The fire was still smoldering at 8 a.m.

The fire department’s entire fleet was destroyed in the blaze, as was the agency’s gear and equipment, the Ashland Daily Press reported.

The agency also lost the new ambulance they received just four months ago, according to the Superior Telegram.

The cause of the blast is still under investigation, but Potswald noted that there were vehicles parked inside the building with fuel in their tanks.

City officials are now working to get backup emergency vehicles on loan from surrounding communities to the island before the ice road disappears, the Superior Telegram reported.

Temperatures are expected to climb in the area through the weekend, Potswald said.

“The fire department has already met twice this morning and they organized into committees to start looking at dealing with things like personal protective gear, vehicles, equipment and the building, in terms of ‘How do we start dealing with this?’” she told the Superior Telegram on Wednesday.

“The Town of La Pointe is working hard to restore La Pointe Fire Department and Ambulance Services on the Island,” the La Pointe Police Department said in a Facebook post. “We will inform you when services are restored. Until then, services will be available to the Island from neighboring communities. You should still call 911 for fire and ambulance services; be advised that there will be some delay in the response because they are coming from the mainland.”

Surrounding agencies were so quick to loan vehicles and equipment to the La Pointe Fire Department, Potswald said she expected ambulance services to be running again by late Wednesday, according to the Ashland Daily Press.

Fire department services should be available by the weekend.

The agency will operate out of one of the city’s storage buildings until the fire hall can be rebuilt, the Superior Telegram reported.

Many people have offered their own homes to police officers forced to stay on the island overnight until a new living quarter is complete.

“Everything that was destroyed was replaceable,” Potswald told The Ashland Daily Press.

A Wisconsin State Fire Marshal is handling the ongoing investigation into the cause of the blast.

Holly Matkin - March Thu, 2019


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