A historic loss: No one injured in fire at Tomah Veteran facility

TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) — Five veterans were inside a Tomah residential facility when it caught fire Saturday night. No one was injured, but the historic building may be a loss.

In a small town, there’s a good chance every building has a long history.

“This building was called the Lusitania Hospital in the 1800s and I know it’s been a veterans care facility between 30 and 40 years,” said community member Tim Vernier.

The Trowbridge Personal Care Residence has been providing care to veterans for as long as community members like Vernier can remember.

“Dale and Shelly are deeply rooted in this community. They’ve given back all their lives,” said Vernier.

Assistant Chief of the Tomah Fire Department Dale Trowbridge and his wife Shelly live on the first floor of the residence. The five veterans live on the second floor. Shelly considers the veterans a part of her family.

On Saturday night, around 5:30 p.m., the future of the historic building on 110 E. Council St. went up in flames. All five veterans were in the building during the fire. The Trowbridges were attending a baby shower for their daughter.

“The initial reports were that the side of the house was fully engulfed and there were residents still inside,” said Tomah Fire Chief Tim Adler.

The veterans who lived in the building with the Trowbridges smoked in a shed near the staircase.

“The fire started from that smoking shack and spread quickly up the house,” said Chief Adler.

According to Chief Adler, the fire spread to the staircase and the second floor of the building. The flames rose higher than the roof in what Chief Adler calls a chimney effect. More than 40 firefighters from the Tomah Fire Department, Oakdale Fire Department, and Fort McCoy fought the flames from inside and outside the building for more than four hours. Chief Adler says the department had to call Tomah Public Works to spray salt because the water was freezing on the ground.

“It was like an ice-skating rink. There was substantial fire and water damage, but by fighting the fire from inside out, we were able to have the occupants go in and salvage a lot of their personal belongings,” said Chief Adler.

The Trowbridges are still waiting on their insurance agency, but according to the Fire Chief, the historic building may be a total loss. While the damage to the home is irreparable, what rose from the ashes is small town spirit. All five veterans found new temporary homes through the VA system and the Trowbridges have started looking for new building.

“This block had to be blocked off for all the traffic going, coming in, helping and bringing boxes,” said Vernier.

Community members pitched in to help the Trowbridges who dedicated their lives to serving their community.

“It’s a way that people where giving back to people who give back. It’s a small town thing,” said Vernier.