Heroic efforts reduce toll of fire in Greenfield

Paramedic rescues woman; mayor rescues trapped cat

March 11, 2014

Greenfield — A fire at a 16-unit apartment complex at least proved less tragic as a result of two rescues, one by a paramedic and one by Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke.

Firefighters were called to the complex at 73rd Street and Southridge Drive about 1 p.m. March 1 and immediately started evacuating residents. Two occupants — an elderly woman and a cat — required some extra help.

The elderly woman's daughter credits Paramedic Shannon Rohde, Rohde who only joined the department last year, with saving her mother's life.

Unaware of danger

The woman suffers hearing loss and wasn't aware of approaching fire truck sirens. Her lights had gone out and she was trying to find out why when Rohde pounded on the apartment door and opened it to find the woman standing just inside.

Rohde took her arm and called for partner Jeremy Holm to assist. As they both guided the woman down from the second floor, the smoke was so thick even the firefighters had trouble seeing through their masks, Rohde said.

The woman, unable to comprehend her danger because of her hearing loss, "probably would have waited in the apartment too long," Rohde said.

"We were pretty lucky we found her when we did," she said.

Almost miraculously, the woman suffered no significant smoke inhalation and didn't need to be taken to the hospital, Rohde said.

Cat rescue

The rescue involving the mayor was much less dramatic but still involved a loved one, even if it was only a terrified little cat named Buddy.

Neitzke said he came to the fire to see how things were going. As the fire raged on the north side of the building, he and a police officer walked around the south side and suddenly heard mewing. The sounds were coming from an open door from which smoke was flowing out.

They looked inside and saw a frightened white striped cat huddled in a stairwell about 15 feet inside the building.

Neitzke went in and scooped up the terrified feline and carried it to safety. As he held it, Neitzke noticed that it had breathed in smoke because the fur was dark near its nostrils.

As he and the officer walked back around the building, a man in his mid- to late-20s exclaimed, "Oh, you found the cat." The man, who told them the cat's nam, said he would take care of it. Neitzke said the man either knew or was the owner.

Neitzke never saw the reunion of Buddy with his family, but he knows that if his own pet — the mayor's family just adopted a dog from the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission — came out of such a disaster alive, "I would feel very relieved."

Although his 9-year-old daughter thinks her dad is a hero, Neitzke laughed and said, "I'm no hero, I did what anybody would have done," adding "I don't know how people found out (about the rescue). I didn't tell anybody."

Still under investigation

The cause of the fire that virtually destroyed the complex is still under investigaton.

"They've narrowed it down to the basement," said Assistant Fire Chief George Weber.

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