La Crosse Fire Dept. prepares year round for disasters

Hazmat team trains every month

Just one day after a 40-foot tank explosion sent a Midwest Industrial Asphalt worker to the hospital, he and his co-workers are back on the job.

The worker was the only one injured during Wednesday morning’s explosion. The company clarified at a news conference that it owns a sister company called Midwest Fuels that operates there, but the explosion happened at Midwst Industrial Asphalt.

The La Crosse Fire Department credits the lack of injuries to the training done on a daily basis.              

Emergency crews are the ones that get paid to deal with the things people never expect to happen, whether it be a plane crash or tank explosion. They are the ones that have to be prepared for anything at any time.   

That’s why the La Crosse Fire Department trains for the unpredictable more often than the average public may think.

“It could have been a lot more significant than it was, a lot more significant,” said Chief Gregg Cleveland with the La Crosse Fire Department.

Wednesday morning’s fuel tank explosion on La Crosse’s Northside took many by surprise.

“I don’t think we’ve had a significant incident like this here in my tenure as fire chief,” said Cleveland.

But just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

“You’d be surprised of all the things that can happen,” said Lt. Richard Placek, with the La Crosse Fire Department.

Placek has been with the La Crosse Fire Department for 14 years and he knows all too well that nothing ever goes according to plan.

“You can script all you want, but nothing is ever going to be the same,” said Placek.

To prepare for the unpredictable, the La Crosse Fire Department Hazmat Team trains on a monthly basis.

“You train for liquid fires, you train for chemicals and you train for any possibly scenario you can imagine,” said Placek.

However, as a firefighter, training happens daily.

“To maintain the level of preparedness that we have, we have to train every day. We have to be active and learning new things,” said Placek.

So that when something happens out of the ordinary emergency responders are ready.

“If we don’t keep training, we are not going to stay on top of our job,” said Placek.

Although Placek has been in the profession for about two decades, he still remembers one of the first lessons he ever learned on the job and that is to never say never.

“That can never happen is not in the vocabulary, no definitely not,” said Placek.

The fire department makes it a priority to set up realistic hazmat training scenarios throughout the city.

Although the department has never trained at Midwest Industrial Asphalt where the explosion occurred, the department has done inspections there so they knew the general layout of the property so they could quickly navigate the grounds and put out the fire.

Midwest Industrial Asphalt is well on its way to cleaning up the explosion sight. On Wednesday, crews cleaned up a lot of the water runoff from the fire hoses to prevent it from getting into the Black River. On Thursday, crews focused on the damage and clean up near the explosion site.