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A fire captain described the scene of a deadly explosion at a foundry as “chaos” and said fellow firefighters yelled “We need ambulances” after the blast.
The dumpster explosion Tuesday night outside Bremer Manufacturing near St. Anna killed volunteer firefighter Steven Koeser, 33, and injured eight others.
“I heard the boom, but to me it didn’t seem very loud,” Capt. Adam Schuh of the St. Anna Fire Department said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Schuh was one of about 20 firefighters who arrived a short time before the blast. “I saw the flash and you could feel the wave hit you,” he said.
Authorities said water from a fire hose triggered a burning container holding metal byproducts to explode. The foundry, at W2002 County Q, is located about one mile west of the unincorporated community of St. Anna not far from Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties. The facility makes aluminum sand castings for various industries.
The injured firefighters:
Schuh said the blast damaged much of his department’s equipment, including primary and secondary pumper trucs. The crew will be out of service until early next week.
“More than anything, it’s emotional injuries for everybody,” Schuh said. “Even when we are physically ready to be up and running again, I don’t know if we are going to be emotionally ready.”
Schuh said his department has received offers of support from around the state, including help from grief counselors. Late on Wednesday morning, firefighters from the Mt. Calvary Fire Department arrived to loan equipment.
Calumet County Sheriff Jerry Pagel said the state fire marshal and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were helping investigate.
Pagel said one of his officers on patrol saw a fire on the Bremer grounds about 7:20 p.m. and called for the St. Anna Fire Department to respond. About 20 firefighters arrived at 7:41. The dumpster was one of several located about 50 feet from the highway.
No employees were at the foundry at the time of the fire.
Koeser was pronounced dead at the scene, said Calumet Sheriff’s Lt. Brett Bowe.
Koeser, nicknamed “Peanut,” had been with the volunteer force for 15 years, officials said.
“He will be missed by all firefighters and the community,” Schuh said, reading from a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon.
Bremer president Tom Dolack told The Associated Press the company was “just devastated as a result of the death of a fireman and the injuries. It’s overwhelming for us as I’m sure it is for their families. This is a very close-knit community.”
Alice Thome, who lives about a quarter mile from the foundry, said she heard an explosion some time before 8 p.m. “It sort of shook everything,” she said.
David Boll, who lives about a half mile from the site, said he heard the blast at about 7:50 p.m.
“It rocked the house,” he said.
Boll immediately drove to the scene to see what happened.
“There was a large plume of white smoke in the sky,” he said.
Boll said he left after he saw firefighters were already on the scene. He said officials blocked off about a one-mile stretch of County Q.
Bill Braun, who lives about 500 feet from the blast, said he was home with his wife, Linda Suda, at the time. He thought something had exploded inside his house.
“It just shook everything,” he said. “Things fell off the wall. It just rocked the house. It was just a bad explosion.”
Braun said he went to the blast scene and the front of the Bremer building did not appear to be damaged.
“You wouldn’t think the building would still be standing. This was a real bad explosion,” he said.
Suda said she thought a car had hit their house. “We have cracks in the wall that we didn’t have before,” she said. “It was massive.”
Suda said this event will be difficult for residents.
“It’s a really close-knit community,” she said. “Everybody knows everybody, and everyone is related.”
After the explosion, the New Holstein and Kiel fire departments relieved St. Anna firefighters at the scene. Also responding were New Holstein first responders and the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department.