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Two firefighters killed after semi crashes into engine

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Barry Adams

The Wisconsin State Journal

They were veteran firefighters. Part of the backbone of this city where history is celebrated.But on Thursday this Iowa County community of 2,487 was in mourning after the two men with more than a combined 60 years of service with the Mineral Point Fire Department were killed in a crash on Highway 151 while responding to a rollover crash.

The dangers of the four-lane highway, with its speeding traffic, big trucks and unpredictable weather, are well known and account for the majority of the Fire Department’s calls. Making sense of a crash that claimed the lives of two of his firefighters, one of them a captain, proved difficult, however, for Chief Bryan Marr and the other volunteers who gathered at the station late Thursday morning to collectively grieve.

“We’re still just trying to wrap our heads around it. We’re trying to process this,” said Marr, who has been with the department for nearly 30 years. “They were just great people. I’m at a loss. We’re going to get through it, but we’re going to need some help with it.”

The Iowa County Sheriff’s Office said the firefighters were driving north on the highway when at about 12:30 a.m. they attempted to use an emergency crossover just west of the Highway 23 exit on the city’s north side. That’s when their fire truck, with its lights flashing, was struck by a northbound semitractor-trailer.

The fire truck, a tanker with 2,000 gallons of water on board, caught fire and the two firefighters, whose names are not being released by the Wisconsin State Journal at the request of the Fire Department, died at the scene. The semi driver, whose name has not been released, refused medical treatment but as of late Thursday, the Sheriff’s Office had not said if the driver faces possible charges. Attempts to reach Sheriff Steve Michek were unsuccessful. Autopsies are scheduled for Friday in Madison, Marr said.

Firefighters from Mineral Point responded to the crash site but were later relieved by firefighters from the Dodgeville Fire Department. The crash closed the highway in both directions for nearly 15 hours.

“Our condolences to the Mineral Point Fire Department and the families of the (two) firefighters they lost today,” the Dodgeville Fire Department posted on its Facebook page Thursday. “Their service and dedication will not be forgotten. You are all in our thoughts and prayers. May the love and support of those around you help give you strength and peace in the days ahead.”

Words of comfort filled Facebook pages of fire departments from around the state. The deaths are believed to be the first in the line of duty in the long history of the Mineral Point Fire Department and the first in the state in 2022.

According to the Wisconsin State Firefighters and EMS Memorial website, three firefighters died in 2020, three in 2019 and six in 2018. Deaths that year included Capt. Cory Barr of Sun Prairie, who died in a downtown explosion, and Richard Garner, 29, a Madison Fire Department firefighter and paramedic who collapsed suddenly and died shortly after his shift ended.

Department veterans

One of the Mineral Point firefighters who died had been with the department since 1984, the other since 1997. A family member of one of the men declined to speak with a reporter Thursday. Family for the other firefighter could not be reached. The department has about 40 members.

“Both of them were just huge assets to the department,” Marr said. “They’re down here all of the time doing their due diligence not only for the whole department but for the whole community.”

One of those who came Thursday to assist Marr was Chad Grossen, deputy chief of operations for the Fitchburg Fire Department, who has known Marr for three decades.

“We want to make sure we’re taking care of each other,” said Grossen. “This is devastating. You can never plan for this stuff.”

Mineral Point is one of the state’s most historic communities and was founded because of the area’s rich lead deposits in the 1820s. Henry Dodge was inaugurated as the first governor of the newly formed Wisconsin Territory in 1836 in downtown Mineral Point, a year after the formation of the Fire Department. But now tourism is the main industry here. Pendarvis, a state historic site, is filled with restored Cornish cabins, while art studios and galleries line High Street and the restored Mineral Point Opera House brings in national touring acts.

At the Midway Bar, a popular stop for pizza and steak sandwiches in the city’s downtown, Nicole Faull, who has owned the business for three years and is vice president of the Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce, was in the midst of an annual weeklong deep clean and maintenance project that has her bar closed until Monday. However, she took a break Thursday to make pizzas to be delivered to the fire station Thursday evening.

“That whole crew operates as a large family,” Faull said of the city’s firefighters. “Everyone feels this loss. But I think it’s going to bring a close-knit community closer together.”

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(c)2022 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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