It was not in any way a typical call when the Ephraim Fire Department was dispatched to a local B&B in Ephraim around 8:30 am Tuesday to rescue a 3-year-old child who had locked himself inside a third-floor bedroom.
Varro Tanem was playing with one of his five siblings – all six children are younger than 10 – when parents Jena and Justinn Tanem learned that he had dead-bolted the door, locking himself inside a bedroom.
“I was downstairs in the kitchen wiping up the baby, and I asked my 5-year-old, ‘Where’s Varro?’” Jena said. He told her he had pushed the button on the door and closed Varro inside the bedroom. In an attempt to get out, Varro then dead-bolted the door from the inside.
Jena and Justinn tried for about an hour to get him to unlock the dead bolt.
“My husband drew him a picture and slipped it under the door,” Jena said. “We tried games, magic words.”
Nothing worked. Meanwhile, Varro cascaded through a range of emotions like, well, a 3-year-old. He became upset and started crying. Then he just lay down on the floor. Next, he was playing with some rocks. They realized he had lost interest in trying to unlock the door and called 911.
Ephraim fire chief Justin MacDonald said they set a ladder against the building to gain access to the bedroom from the balcony. But there was no handle on the outside of the door, so firefighter Tim Penchoff, speaking to Varro from outside on the balcony, tried to talk him through the motions of unlocking and opening one of the windows.
It wasn’t an easy task.
“The whole time, the child was asking the fireman questions,” MacDonald said. “‘Are you a fireman? Is that a walkie talkie?’”
Believing they wouldn’t be able to teach Varro how to unlock the window, they prepared to break through the bedroom door.
“We were going to force the door from the outside,” MacDonald said. “The mother was a little bit worried about that. It’s not a quiet task, so we were going to keep [Varro] occupied.”
But, Penchoff finally talked Varro through unlocking the window, and Penchoff was able to climb through.
“I’ve seen children who see us, and they start crying, and this kid was happy as could be,” MacDonald said. “He was happy we were all there. It didn’t faze him.”
Turns out, Varro is fascinated by firefighters and fire trucks, and his reward for the ordeal was visiting the fire truck and trying on a firefighter’s hat.
“He is obsessed with fire trucks,” Jena said. “He hugged the firefighter right away and wanted to see the fire truck. We’re worried he’ll lock himself in again just to see the firefighters!”
No worries of that, though – at least not during this visit. The family was soon heading back home to Milwaukee, though they visit Door County once or twice a year.
“Everyone was safe and happy,” MacDonald said. “We’re always grateful to go to a call like that.”