Video by Steve Wideman, postcrescent.com.
The bronze, miniature statue of a firefighter outside of St. Ann Catholic Church felt almost too cold to touch in Saturday’s near-zero temperatures.
Winds pushing wind chills to 20 below zero raced up the hillside to the church, situated in the Calumet County community of St. Anna, and kept the statue’s metal frigid.
For five hours, hundreds of firefighters climbing the steps to the church saw the chilled statue and felt a chill run through their own hearts.
All knew the statue, a miniature version of a life-size statue at the Wisconsin State Firefighters Memorial in Wisconsin Rapids, meant one thing — another firefighter had died in the line of duty.
Firefighters from around the state gathered Saturday in St. Anna to pay final respects and bid farewell to fellow firefighter Steven “Peanut” Koeser.
An industrial explosion killed Koeser, 33, and injured eight other St. Anna firefighters on Tuesday.
During Saturday’s funeral for Koeser, fire departments from as far away as Beloit, Ashland, Milwaukee and Tomahawk came to St. Anna — one department every 15 minutes through the day.
“No matter if you are a full-time, professional firefighter or a volunteer, you are part of one big family, the brotherhood of firefighters,” said St. Nazianz Fire Chief Fred Koeppen. “When a department loses a man, it is devastating to the entire firefighting family. It’s especially devastating in St. Anna where the fallen firefighter was a volunteer and didn’t get paid.”
Bringing the bronze statue to St. Anna was a difficult emotional task for Ron Naab, who serves on the board of directors of the state memorial.
“We take it to the funerals of all our line-of-duty deaths,” said Naab, noting the life-sized statue in Wisconsin Rapids is dedicated to all state firefighters who have lost their lives.
“We have 289 names on the memorial’s black, granite wall. Steve will be the 290th name and the first this year,” Naab said.
Firefighters from Green Bay and Milwaukee served as honor guards during the funeral. Aerial ladder trucks from the Kiel and New Holstein fire departments formed an arch draped with a large American flag, and a St. Anna fire engine carrying Koeser’s body from the church to the cemetery, passed large groups of firefighters, some in full gear, some in ceremonial uniforms and wearing windbreaker jackets, seemingly oblivious to the cold.