Beaver Dam Fire Department Releases Report On Fatal Apartment Fire

(Beaver Dam) The Beaver Dam Fire Department has released their report on the fatal fire last month at the Executive Apartment complex. Captain Lee Smith was the Incident Commander during the blaze and he presented the city’s Police and Fire Commission this week with a narrative detailing the dangers and the heroics of the situation.

Smith says during the early stages of the fire there was a limited number of firefighters on scene to conduct a fire suppression effort and search and rescue operation simultaneously. The top priority became search and rescue with as many as ten to 15 people unaccounted for at one point, the effort constantly hampered by high heat and low visibility.

Crews were just entering when smoke conditions and temperatures drastically changed and there was a significant increase in heat. An evacuation was ordered but some crews on the second floor reported that they were lost and could not find the windows on the backside of the structure. A ladder was brought up to the windows which were smashed so that the lost firefighters could “follow the voice” of their colleagues. They got out just as there was a flashover. That means everything lights up to ignition temperatures at the same time. Fire Chief Alan Mannel says twelve firefighters were “in harm’s way and missed it by that much.”

The incident commander was reluctant to say the outcome could have been different with more personnel early on but the chief did not mince words when he said “a few extra people right off the bat would have helped.” The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Listen to the report presentation at the Police and Fire Commission Meeting (text of report below):


Brief Narrative for 600 W. Third Street Fire


At approximately 06:02 hours on Saturday, April 7, 2018, the Beaver Dam Fire and Rescue Department received a page from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office Communication Center reporting that residents at 600 W. Third Street, The Executive Apartments, were reporting smoke everywhere in the building and the Communication Center was reporting multiple calls. Residents were reporting a lot of smoke but no fire was seen. Communication staff advised the resident who had called to pull the fire alarm and evacuate the building.


At 06:03 hours, Staff Command vehicle with Captain Lee Smith was enroute to call, immediately after leaving the station, Captain Smith requested the Communication Center to go to a Working Still Alarm for Beaver Dam Fire Department MABAS Box Card Number 12-10-8. At 06:04 hours, Engine 1262 staffed with two members, Ladder 1271 staffed with one member and Medic 1252 staffed with one member went enroute.


While enroute, Beaver Dam Police Officer Rich Dahl was on scene and was reporting a lot of smoke and that there were two occupants who were trapped in their apartments on the second floor in back of the building. While traveling west on W. Third Street, a lot of smoke could be seen and visibility was reduced when arriving on scene.


At 06:06 hours Captain Smith arrived on scene and assumed W. Third Street Command and requested the Communication Center to go to the 1st Box Alarm Level for Box Number 12-10-8. When he arrived on scene, there were multiple people standing in the street, some just wearing shorts and t-shirts, there were others standing in the front yard of the apartment complex and in a nearby parking lot. Residents were reporting that there were people possibly still trapped inside of the building.


A 360 degree scene size up was done of the apartment building and two adult occupants were observed standing in their window on the second floor in the back of the building and were yelling for help to get out. Beaver Dam Police Officer Rich Dahl was standing in the parking lot talking to the occupants and re-assuring them that help was on the way. Captain Smith asked them to make sure their apartment door was closed and they stated it was. They were advised that the fire department was on the way and would put a ladder up to assist them out.  Ladder 1271 was assigned to report to the back of the apartment complex and rescue the two adult occupants from the second floor window.


At approximately 06:07 hours, Engine 1262, Ladder 1271 and Medic 1252 arrived on scene. Ladder 1271 positioned in the rear of the apartment complex and began setting up for rescue operations for the two trapped residents. Engine 1262 staged on W. Third Street in front of the main entrance to the apartment building. Captain Smith was at the front door and was reporting that he could hear a voice of a female from inside the building yelling, “Help me.” There was very heavy smoke conditions and there was absolutely no visibility. Captain Smith entered the building in attempt to find the victim and had to retreat due to smoke conditions and he attempted two more times to enter the building but was driven back due to the smoke.


Due to the fact that there was a confirmed trapped citizen inside the structure, the number one priority was to rescue this civilian and aggressively do a search and rescue of the remaining structure.  At approximately 06:10 hours, FF/Medic Wes Jahnke who arrived on Engine 1262 was assigned by Captain Smith to enter the structure as he was reporting a victim was inside the complex. FF/Medic Jahnke entered the structure by himself and attempted to search for the victim. He made his way to the basement steps but retreated due to the smoke and heat. At this time, POC FF Kyle Nehr was at the front door and was assigned to go into the structure with FF/Medic Jahnke and find the victim. 


While searching for this victim in the basement, another search crew was assigned to search the first floor for victims. This team consisted of FF/Medic Chris Ackley, FF/Medic John Jatczak and Capt. Russ Johnson. Another crew consisting of four firefighters from Fox Lake Fire Department and three firefighters from Beaver Dam Fire were assigned to enter the apartment complex from the rear of the building and conduct a search of the second floor.


FF/Medic Jahnke and FF Nehr reported that they had found a victim who was found initially conscious and was being brought out of the structure and while removing her she became unconscious. At about 06:25 hours this victim was brought outside of the building and was immediately treated by Fire and EMS personnel on scene. Watertown Fire Department Paramedics arrived on scene and this victim was placed into their rig. While in the rig, this victim regained consciousness and was treated and transported to Beaver Dam Community Hospital where she was later transferred to a hospital in Milwaukee to undergo hyperbaric chambers treatments.


At approximately 06:30 hours, the first floor search and rescue team of Capt. Johnson, FF/Medic Jatczak and FF/Medic Ackley reported that they had found a victim in the hallway and was bringing the victim out of the structure. The victim was removed from the building and CPR was started immediately and the victim was placed into Horicon EMS with Beaver Dam Capt/Medic Paul Hartl and FF/EMT Lee Heiling. This victim was transported to Beaver Dam Community Hospital and later to transport to St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee where she later passed away on April 8, 2018.


During the early stages of this incident, we had a limited number of firefighters on scene to do a fire attack and search and rescue operation simultaneously. The number one priority was to do an aggressive search and rescue operations, once we had sufficient personnel on scene, Lt. Nick Buchda, FF Hill and FF Modaff were assigned interior fire attack and made entry through the front door in the atrium. They had reported that they were experiencing no visibility and high heat and were making their way to the basement. They had reported that they had made their way to the basement level and experienced high heat and again, no visibility. At this point, they reported that they had run out of hose and left the hose in place and were coming back out to add hose to the line. After adding additional hose to the line, the crew was just entering the doorway when Lt. Buchda observed the smoke conditions had changed dramatically and there was a significant increase in heat. He radioed to Command and recommended that all interior units exit the building immediately. At this time, Command advised over the radio to have all interior crews exit the building immediately and all apparatus on scene blew their air horns three times to signal evacuation from the building. At this time the interior search and rescue teams on the second floor were reporting that they were lost and couldn’t find the windows on the rear side of the second floor. Fire department personnel on the back side had the bucket from the Ladder truck at a window and was advising the interior crews the bucket was at the window and to follow his voice. One of the interior search and rescue teams reported that they were in a bedroom and were banging on a window. This team was advised to break the window and climb down the ladder. Both teams on the second floor began to exit the structure when it was reported that there was a possible flashover on the entire second floor.


At 06:36 hours, all fire ground activities were defensive measures only. Some of the fire apparatus on scene was repositioned for defensive measures. Beaver Dam Ladder 1271 was repositioned and set up for defensive operations.



A water supply was needed for Ladder 1271 and Juneau Fire Chief Curt Ninmann who was assigned to Division C suggested setting up a portable water operation. At 07:43 hours, Command requested a 12-12-2 Box Card to the 2nd alarm level for Tenders only and an Engine from Randolph Fire Department.  The portable water supply was set-up in the old Lakeview Hospital and Tenders were filled at Tahoe Park. It was reported that the Tenders dumped a total of 79 times (Each Tender was approximately 3000 Gallons each). Approximately 800 feet of 5” LDH was hand jacked from Ladder 1271 to Horicon Engine which supplied Ladder 1271 from the portable water site.


There was initially reports of a lack of water which hampered fire suppression efforts. This was not the case as Engine 1262 used a fire hydrant at the intersection of Lacrosse St. and W. Third St. and was supplying hand lines and supplying water to Juneau Fire Department Ladder truck. Fox Lake Fire Department used a fire hydrant at the intersection of Mary St. and W. Third St. and was supplying hand lines for operations on the C Division. Beaver Dam Squad 1261 used fire hydrant at the intersection of W. Maple St. and Lacrosse St. and was supplying hand lines to the D Division and master stream operations on the A side of the structure. Waupun Ladder truck was connected to the fire hydrant at the end of W. Third St. Due to no other fire hydrants in the area without laying 5” LDH supply line well over 1500’ feet it was decided to do the portable water supply.


At 08:43 hours, Command requested to go to the 4th Alarm for Engines only in Box Card Number 12-10-8 for personnel.


At 09:19 hours, C Division reported that there was a collapse of the structure on the C-side only. It was reported that half of the roof had collapsed into the basement and fire was still active.


At approximately 10:15 hours, it was reported that C Division was having difficulties extinguishing the fire due to the structural collapse. A meeting was held with Beaver Dam Police Department Lt. Terrence Gebhardt and officials with the Fire Marshall’s Office to determine if heavy excavating equipment could be brought in to remove some of the structure that collapsed in. There was some concern due to the possibility of victims still in the structure. It was determined that heavy equipment could be brought in to remove just the roof membrane. At 12:00 hours, Zechzer Excavating arrived on scene and started removing the roofing membrane which assisted putting a bulk of the remaining fire out.


At 12:45 hours, the fire was considered under control and at 13:18 hours, Command Struck out Box Number 12-10-8 and at 13:29 hours, all tender operations were terminated and tenders were released from the scene.


Beaver Dam Fire Department personnel and apparatus remained on scene and 16:18 hours it was determined that the excavator could start removing remaining walls on the C-side of the structure.


At 17:31 hours, all Beaver Dam Fire Department apparatus was advised to shut down operations and begin clean-up. Engine 1262, Command and assigned FF’s remained on scene to assist the Fire Marshalls Office if needed.


At approximately 18:00 hours, while searching the structure, officials with the Fire Marshalls Office found a victim in the basement and was identified as the possible resident who was unaccounted for. The Dodge County Medical Examiner’s Office was contacted and arrived on scene. At 18:50 hours on Saturday April 7, 2018, the victim was pronounced deceased. It was determined that due to the large amount of water that was in the basement and unable to verify if the structure was stable enough to enter and remove the victim, it would be done on Sunday April 8th, 2018.


At 19:00 hours, Grass Rig 1281 and Medic Unit 1254 arrived at the scene with 3 Paid on Call personnel and was assigned to monitor the building overnight for any flare ups. The scene remain secured by Beaver Dam Police Department Officers.


At 19:20 hours on Saturday April 7, 2018, 600 W. Third Street Fire Command was terminated.


At 08:00 hours, on Sunday April 8, 2018, Beaver Dam Fire Department personnel returned to the scene to assist the Marshall Office, Beaver Dam Police Department, ATF and Dodge County Medical Examiner’s Office. 

Prior to removing the victim from the basement, it was determined that the some of the structure in the basement area needed to be braced up due to concerns about moving the victim. After the shoring was done, the victim was removed from the structure at 10:20 hours on Sunday April 8, 2018.


Fire Department personnel assisted the State Fire Marshall’s Office, Beaver Dam Police Department and ATF Sunday April 8th, 2018 through Thursday April 12th, 2018.


On Thursday April 12th at 12:00 hours, the structure was released to the property owner.



Side Notes:


In the early stages of the event, it was undetermined how many residents were unaccounted for and staff with the Beaver Dam Police Department worked feverishly on constantly updating this list. The initial report was that there was possibly 5 apartments unaccounted for. Through the work of the Police Department, it was later determined that there was only one resident unaccounted for and that was the victim found in the basement.


Beaver Dam Police Department requested for the State Fire Marshall’s Office early in the incident and they arrived on scene during fire suppression efforts. In addition, the Police Department requested the Mobile Command Post from the Dodge County Emergency Management.


The Police Department arranged for the residents of 600 W. Third Street to be taken down to the Watermarks Facility and requested buses from Johnsons. Early in the incident, residents east of the apartment complex were asked to evacuate due to the large amount of smoke hanging low to the ground. Some of these residents did leave and waited patiently in the buses that were staged in the Lakeview Parking lot.


Pumps for pumping out the basement were obtained from Beaver Dam Water Utilities and Juneau Fire Department also supplied three portable pumps to assist in removing water.