Rhinelander apartment fire displaces 13 residents
Fire chief addresses staffing, safety concerns at Rhinelander council meeting
By Eileen Persike
A fire early Sunday morning at an apartment complex oat 809 E. Timber Drive in Rhinelander has displaced 13 people; no one was injured. The apartment where the fire originated is a total loss and the seven other apartments in the building received structural and water damage from the fire suppression efforts.
Rhinelander Police and Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputies were evacuating the residents when the fire fighters arrived on the scene. The fire alarm system for the rest of the building reportedly did not sound.
Fire Chief Brian Tonnancour addressed the city council at the April 25 meeting and said he wants to begin a conversation about increasing the fire department staff.
“We had five personnel on shift that day, on Sunday morning, we showed up with five personnel and saved that entire apartment complex,” Tonnancour said. “Not the most safe amount of manning … but this is a heads up. It was a very real chance that things could have gone wrong really fast.”
Tonnancour said the firefighters did an “amazing job” working fast and potentially saving 13 lives. But with staffing at the minimum level, he told the Star Journal, safety becomes a concern.
“We should be self-sufficient to begin an initial attack,” Tonnancour said. “When it comes to a fire call, we’re already behind the eight-ball because we cannot sustain the operation” without mutual aid from the surrounding volunteer departments.
As the fire chief, Tonnancour said it is his job to educate the public and city government about the city’s firefighting needs. Looking to the future, his goal is to increase the number of firefighters on staff.
“It’s the beginning of the process,” Tonnancour said. “I want to open that line of communication and let the city know the fire fighters are doing more with less when it comes to protecting the city.”
The Red Cross is assisting the affected residents. Pine Lake and Pelican fire departments were on the scene to assist.