by Robb Carr, Assistant Fire Chief, Washington Island; Public Information Officer, Washington Island Fire Rescue, Inc.
On Wednesday, March 6, at approximately 2:30 am, the Madeline Island Town of La Pointe fire station suffered an explosion and subsequent fire that destroyed all of its fire and emergency-service capabilities. The station was burned to the ground.
Seven fire trucks, two ambulances and the building were declared total losses. The station, which houses sleeping quarters, was unoccupied, and no one was hurt.
On Friday, March 8, the Washington Island Fire Department established communication with the La Pointe Fire Department on Madeline Island and offered to loan our 1,900-gallon water tender. The Washington Island Town Board approved the loan at a special meeting on March 12, and Assistant Chief Hoyt Purinton and Captain Tom Bloch delivered the tender to Madeline Island in the early morning hours of March 14.
This is probably one of the most far-reaching mutual-aid connections and support in all of Wisconsin. It’s approximately 400 miles west from Washington Island in Lake Michigan to our “Sister Island” Madeline in Lake Superior.
The La Pointe Fire Department on Madeline Island and the Washington Island Fire Department share the same challenges in providing emergency service to our communities. On a remote island, your first response has to be “all out all the time.” Our mutual-aid resources are, at best, an hour from the alarm to on-scene. We have to get it right and hit it hard. Our first shot is our best chance. When Washington Island heard about the devastating explosion and fire on Madeline, we knew we had to give them support any way we could.
This tender was chosen for its relatively lightweight (14,800 pounds dry), compact, single-axle size. In the deep winter, travel to and from Madeline Island is by the “ice road” that is designated and maintained between Bayfield on the mainland and La Pointe on Madeline Island. The prompt delivery of the Washington Island truck was imperative because the recent thaw and rains have threatened the ice road’s stability.
The tender will be available to the La Pointe Fire Department as long as it needs it, and it will eventually be returned to Washington Island via the regular Madeline Island summer ferry service. Expenses for the truck’s delivery and return are being paid by Washington Island Fire Rescue, Inc.
We extend a thank-you to Lieutenant Justin McDonald and the Egg Harbor Fire Department. They purchased this truck new in 1999, and when they replaced it in mid-2018, knowing it had many years of service left, they sold it to Washington Island Fire Rescue, Inc., which, in turn, donated it to the Town of Washington at no taxpayer expense.
Additional information about the Wisconsin DNR’s assistance to the La Pointe Fire Department and the ice road is available at dnr.wi.gov/news. Video is available at duluthnewstribune.com/news/fires/4581038-explosion-destroys-madeline-island-fire-hall#.XIGaafeIHvc.email.