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Firefighters should be commended

By Staff | Jan 2, 2009

I am not sure exactly who to write this letter to, but am sure you will know with whom it should be shared. Many times in public safety, emergency workers’ performances are overlooked when they are truly heroic, unselfish, professional, and HONORABLE. I have some incidences that I would like to share with you and others about our Rugby Fire Department.

In my experience, the Rugby Fire Department, made up of volunteers, has consistently demonstrated that they perform to the same standard as a fire department employing full-time, professional firefighters. All the firefighters are to be recognized and thanked for this. It must also be noted that in order to reach this level of professionalism, it does not occur overnight. The professionalism is practiced through many years of training, leadership, and knowledge from the experienced firefighters and chiefs, both currently active and retired.

In May 2003 an injury motor vehicle accident was reported east of Rugby on US Highway #2, in a construction zone. I responded to this scene to assist the sheriff’s department with traffic control. The Rugby Fire Department was also en route. Upon arrival, to my surprise, was a male victim of the accident (a passenger in the vehicle struck) performing CPR on his mother, while bystanders stood and watched. Both occupants had been ejected from the vehicle. The male victim (doing the CPR) had an obvious head injury.

The deputy took over CPR while I attended to the male victim, who was combative and “out of control.” The Rugby Fire Department arrived and immediately took control of the scene, to include: the bystanders, first aid to the victims, and fire suppression. It was a “complete relief” when they arrived, and were they impressive! They took over CPR, and other fireman tended to the male victim with the head injury. Within seconds they had him calmed down and complying with being immobilized to prevent further injury.

There have been multiple structure fires in the last five years in the fire department’s protection district. After some of the fires have been extinguished, and I have driven by the fire scenes, it amazes me that the structures are still standing. Normally, for a structure to remain standing the “fire attack” needs to be made from the inside of the structure. This means our volunteers need to take calculated risks, enter the burning, smoke-filled structure, in an attempt to save a person’s property, belongings, and memories. Many, if not most, volunteer departments will stand outside, break out windows, and spray water into the building, which usually results in total destruction of the structure and everything inside. This leads to investigators not being able to determine the cause of a fire.

Some structure fires that come to mind where the Rugby Fire Department demonstrated their unmatched abilities were an attached garage fire which occurred 507 3rd Avenue SE. The attached garage was totally destroyed, but the house wasn’t even damaged. The family was displaced for only one night, and that was only because of electrical damage. Then there was the Econo Lodge fire in October 2006. Fire had penetrated the roof. The fire department entered the hotel, extinguished the fire, and the hotel was able to partially reopen the same day. This fire was ruled an arson, the fire department was able to secure blood evidence at the scene, and the suspect was identified. With just these two fires the Rugby Fire Department saved and salvaged hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in property damage, lives and incomes for Rugby citizens and their friends. This is truly impressive!

On June 10, 2008, I responded to a vehicle rollover south of Rolette. The vehicle had overturned in water, with a juvenile female still inside. I and the Rugby Fire Department arrived within 35 minutes of the accident. With the water temperature, it was believed a rescue effort was warranted. The Rugby Fire Department again took a leading, active role at the accident scene. Some of the firemen entered the “40+ degree, neck-deep” water, others controlled and secured the scene (roadway), while others stayed on shore “running for tools” and preparing for the removal of the victim.

We manually attempted to “flip the car” back onto its wheels in the water, when rescue personnel (Rolette County deputies, Rolette Fire Dept, Rugby Fire Dept) were unable to, more Rugby firemen entered the water. Eventually, personnel were able to “flip the car” and the victim was pulled from the vehicle by Rugby firefighters and floated to shore.

Resuscitation efforts were started, and Rugby firefighters continued to assist medical personnel from the accident scene to the Rugby hospital. During transit the victim would regain her heartbeat, though she eventually died. The victim’s mother personally thanked me for the rescue efforts of the Rugby Fire Department. Though this incident ended in tragedy, the community expects its emergency personnel to do everything “humanly possible” to save a life, and the Rugby Fire Department practiced this simple belief on June 10, and they should all be recognized and thanked.

As a law enforcement officer, when responding to assist with an emergency, it gives me confidence to know that the Rugby Fire Department and its firefighters are responding, as I know they will assist me any way they can, and as it seems, always knowing what I need to better perform my professional duties.

It gives me great comfort as a citizen and a professional to know that the members of the Rugby Fire Department aren’t volunteers for self-gratification but volunteer to make a difference in people’s lives, and are real people who represent the true meaning of “public service.”

Zachmeier is a special agent with the Office of the ND Attorney General

Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

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