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Owner says mutual aid agreement helped save building from fire

By Brittany Schmidt, bschmidt@wkbt.com
Published On: Apr 10 2014 06:08:23 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 10 2014 08:38:36 PM CDT

An estimated 80 firefighters from nine of Trempealeau County's 13 fire departments helped fight a large feed mill fire in Whitehall for a few hours Wednesday night.

WHITEHALL, Wis. (WKBT) -

An estimated 80 firefighters from nine of Trempealeau County's 13 fire departments helped fight a large feed mill fire in Whitehall for a few hours Wednesday night.

The owner of the building says the feed mill was no longer being used so no chemicals or fertilizer were inside. A cause is still under investigation and nobody was injured.

Whitehall Fire Department responded, along with many neighboring departments. The Whitehall Fire Department is made up of about 30 members. It may seem like a lot of firefighters for a town its size, but when battling a fire the size of the one Wednesday night, more help is needed.   

That is where a mutual aid agreement comes in handy among neighboring fire departments. It allows fire departments to share resources and manpower.

Although the feed mill is a complete loss, the owner says the large scale response last night made all the difference.

When Galesville volunteer firefighter Chad Larson arrived at the feed mill Wednesday night, it wasn't just as a firefighter, it was also as the owner of the business.

" I guess when I got here, I started right away and got with Jeremiah, the fire chief from Whitehall and you know just assisted him any way I can,” said Larson.

Larson arrived on scene just in time to watch the 100-year-old building go up in flames.

"Didn't really worry about the building at that time, it was a total loss, trying to save the other buildings close to that so we could use them this next spring,” said Larson.

Larson, along with more than 80 other firefighters, worked hard to knock out the 30-foot flames.

"It was probably about two to three hours of pretty intense firefighting and then it started slowing down,” said Larson.

"We had it under control in about 1 1/2 hours to an 1 hour and 45 minutes,” said Chief Jeremiah Pientok with the Whitehall Fire Department.

For a fire that size, Pientok said it wouldn't have happened so quickly if it wasn't for a mutual aid agreement among fire departments. It's often referred to as MABAS, a Mutual Aid Box Alarm System.

"Basically with MABAS, a fire like last night is preplanned so we do a lot of table talk exercises to work through the obstacles that we are going to have for that fire, so a lot of that stuff is done ahead of time so when you are on scene you don't that much more to think about,” said Pientok.

The Whitehall Fire Department used a generic form of MABAS Wednesday night and is still in the process of implementing it county wide. Not only does it help the firefighters, but it also helped Larson salvage some of his business.

"If we couldn't have gotten all the water on it then we would have lost the other buildings next to it and that would have been a real devastating loss because that is going to be important coming up this spring,” said Larson.

Trempealeau County is in the final stages of ironing out all the details of a MABAS response. Pientok said he doesn't think the lack of MABAS Wednesday night hurt the outcome of the fire. However, he thinks it would have helped with radio traffic.

The Whitehall Fire Department is hoping to implement MABAS within the next month.

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