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Case for new station?
Times photo: Brenda Steurer A fire at the Badger State Ethanol plant Monday brought 77 area emergency responders and 20 vehicles to the scene on West 17th Street in Monroe. A second fire station on the west side could have saved precious time and earlier control of the fire, according to Monroe Fire Chief Daryl Rausch. A proposed new fire station would be located across the street from the plant.
MONROE - A fire station on Monroe's west side, proposed but still in early planning stages, could have saved time and money for local fire departments and for the Badger State Ethanol plant during a fire there Monday.

"Absolutely, the sooner we are able to start fighting a fire, the smaller and more manageable it will be," Monroe Fire Chief Daryl Rausch commented Thursday on The Monroe Times Web site.

Fire crews were called to the plant at about 2:15 p.m. Monday for a fire in the corn protein drying area.

It took about 10.5 minutes for the Monroe Fire Department to reach the plant, on West 17th Street, from its downtown location.

National Fire Protection Associations standards state that all areas served by a fire department should be within a 6- to 8-minute total reflex time and that those standards should be met 90 percent of the time.

Reflex time is measured from the moment the dispatcher picks up the phone until the first action is taken by the fire department at the scene.

Land now set aside for the new fire station is located in the 600 block of West 17th Street - across the street from the Badger State Ethanol plant.

Rausch said residents of Monroe never were in any great danger Monday.

"The firefighters, EMTs, police officers, and plant employees worked hand-in-hand to deal with the situation as expediently and safely as possible, while also being careful of not causing more extensive damage unnecessarily," Rausch wrote online.

But the fire was "a significant event" that eventually required 77 emergency responders and 20 pieces of emergency equipment.

Crews were able to quickly control the fire in the dryer area, but fire had extended into the grain handling ductwork and spread to several other pieces of equipment, according to a news release Tuesday from Rausch.

The incident became an eight-hour fight, using 300,000 gallons of water in extreme cold temperatures and included chasing ignited grain dust in the ducts.

Crews were forced to remove several assemblies to access areas where the fire had spread.

"Firefighters and plant employees worked under extreme conditions to remove ice-covered panels and parts of the plant to access the stubborn fire. This incident once again demonstrates the commitment that all of the area emergency services provide to protect our citizens," Rausch said in the news release.

Rausch estimated total response costs for all vehicles at about $2,400. Monroe's Fire Department had eight of its vehicles at the scene.

Rausch estimated $4,500 in personnel costs were incurred fighting the ethanol plant fire. The City of Monroe began hiring new firefighters in October at a rate of between $12.25 and $16.35 per hour.

Monroe Fire Department used MABAS, mutual aid box alarm system, to call in seven other local fire departments for manpower, Rausch said during an interview Thursday.

The Monroe Police Department and Brodhead, Juda and Browntown fire departments, with two trucks each, initially were called to the scene. They later were joined by trucks and crews from Monticello (two trucks), Cedarville, and Orangeville (one truck each) and Green County EMS. A Freeport City Fire Department truck arrived at about 6 p.m. with a taller ladder.

County Emergency management lighting units and equipment from the Monroe Department of Public Works also were provided.

Not included in the official costs is the expense of feeding the crews.

Brats, hots dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches and soup, along with hot cocoa and coffee, were prepared and delivered by wives and significant others of the firefighters, Rausch said.

"I have about three or four ladies, including my wife, who are active in the department, and they round up the others. Businesses and grocers also offer things," he said.

The crews also were served a sit-down dinner when they returned to the station at about 10 p.m.

"Providing food is standard operating procedure, and a state rehab policy, when a fire lasts through a normal mealtime or longer than four hours," Rausch said.

In a 2007 summary proposal to Monroe City Council members for a west side fire station, Rausch wrote, "The average reflex time (for example, to Badger State Ethanol) is approximately 12 to 14 minutes. This is caused in large part to the firefighters having to leave their jobs or homes on the west side of the city and travel downtown to board apparatus and then return, sometimes along the very same route, to the incident west of (Wisconsin) Highway 69."

To improve response time, Rausch proposed building the west side fire station in lieu of hiring and maintaining a full-time contingent of firefighters at a minimum cost of $686,000 per year.

Rausch stated the fire department's on-call officer can arrive from anywhere in the city within 6 minutes; however, arrival of actual firefighting personnel takes about 8 to 10 minutes, and west of Wis. 69 it takes 12 to 14 minutes.

The Insurance Services Offices, which sets rates for commercial and residential properties based on the effectiveness of the local fire department, recommend insurable properties be within the 1.5-mile radius in order to receive maximum credit. The most western parts of the city fall outside a 1.5-mile radius of the current fire station.

The Badger State Ethanol plant has been inspected for safety "every step of the way" since it first began construction in 2002, Rausch said Thursday.

Badger State Ethanol "and especially (CEO) Mr. (Gary) Kramer, have been very proactive concerning safety in design, maintenance and operation of the plant. Mr. Kramer, along with Bill Jacobson and Safety Director Laurie Cannova have consulted and cooperated with the fire department to ensure the safety of the community, their employees and the environment. In short they have been great corporate citizens," Rausch wrote online.