Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 28, 2002

New firemen broken in with anthrax drill

By Ryan Gueningsman

Although only a drill for four rookie Winsted firefighters, for some of them, their first "real" call was anything but the routine fire.

Mike Thonvold, Jon Davidson, Jeff McDowell, and Gerald Heinen all became members of the department this past year. They came, along with the rest of the Winsted Fire Department, to Linden Wood Apartments last Monday for what they knew was a drill ­ but had no idea what to expect when they arrived.

The situation arranged was not a fire ­ it was a potential case of anthrax.

A Linden Wood resident received a letter in the mail reading "Death to all Americans" and was filled with white powder.

For Davidson, who had been to one fire since joining the force, this drill showed him a "ton."

"People learn from these drills," Davidson said. "It's why the department has them."

In Thonvold's case, becoming a member of the department brought back memories of his childhood.

"My dad was the fire chief back home," Thonvold said. "I'd get to go with my dad on calls, because back then the rules were a little different. You would see some pretty cool things, and mainly people helping people. That's what it's all about ­ the people."

Becoming a firefighter involves passing a physical agility test, an interview, another test, and being approved by the city council, McDowell said.

"After you pass all the tests, you become voted in by the city council. You're on 'probation' for a year, and after that you are voted in by the fire department," he said.

Once the process begins, there are Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 courses that must be passed, in addition to the CPR and First Responders training, which must be completed within the first two years of joining.

"It's really a full-time job," Thonvold said.

Heinen said for him joining the department was a "civic duty."

The four new members agreed that, since Sept. 11, 2001, the position of firefighter has a whole new meaning and sense of respect.

The drill

Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich and firefighter Brian Langenfeld came up with the idea to do a potential anthrax letter.

"In Winsted, we have received such a package before," Henrich said. "We felt it was important to go over this."

Overall, the drill went really well, Henrich said. The police arrived on the scene first and secured the area. As the fire department arrived, the members of the police department told them what they knew of the situation as they entered the parking lot.

"The police did a good job of telling us what they knew," Herbolsheimer said.

The firefighters went inside and evacuated the building, taking residents to a waiting bus to be shuttled to St. Mary's Care Center.

The things that need to be worked on include more radio communication, keeping the victims together, and guarding the doors.

"It wouldn't be a successful drill if we didn't learn things from it," Herbolsheimer said.

"A lot more things were done right than wrong," Henrich said.

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