Fire chief says Highway 28 explosion brought first responders closer together

Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 8/28/19

VIENNA — Community support raised $27,000 in donations for the six Vienna Fire Protection District firefighters who sustained injuries in an Aug. 16 explosion at the Oaker residence, 13000 …

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Fire chief says Highway 28 explosion brought first responders closer together

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VIENNA — Community support raised $27,000 in donations for the six Vienna Fire Protection District firefighters who sustained injuries in an Aug. 16 explosion at the Oaker residence, 13000 block of Highway 28 West.

Funds are meant to help support firefighters during their recovery.

Firemen received about $22,000 last Wednesday evening at the incident debriefing meeting held at the courthouse. The fund remains open at The Maries County Bank for anyone who still wants to donate money to help the firemen with expenses while they can’t work and draw a paycheck.

As of Monday, the new bank balance of the fund was $5,442.77. Sinks Pharmacy was generous, as they matched donations that were turned in at the pharmacy. The YaYa’s in Belle also have established a fund for the injured firemen. Support for the firemen was profound, and donations came from both near and far..

Vienna Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Mike Smith said the debriefing meeting Wednesday night at the courthouse was very good. Over 40 representatives from the fire department, sheriff’s office, MOAD, State Fire Marshal’s Office, and counselors who were there to offer assistance to anyone who needed it. 

Smith said they all agreed that one good thing has come from the incident on Aug. 16 when the firemen were injured, “It brought us all closer together” with the fire department and other agencies they work with. Smith said they worked as a team and this is a positive thing for everyone and the community. 

Maries County Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Scott John echoed the same sentiment, saying, “We all fight on the same team. When something like this happens, we can’t handle these situations without each other.”

Smith said the six firefighters who were injured are all doing better now. He visited with each of them and said their recoveries will all be different as their injuries are varied.

The fire department has workers compensation insurance as well as Volunteer Firemen Insurance Services (VFIS) insurance that will help cover medical expenses and pay each fireman $40 a week while they are off work recovering from their injuries. This is where the generosity of the community has come into play. Smith says the community support is important and appreciated. 

“These guys are going to need the support,” he said.

Beyond the physical injuries, dealing with the mental portion of the incident is just as crucial. The firefighters and their supporters are dealing with trauma, similar to a soldier in a war zone, and the mental issues must be worked through as well. 

Smith said when an incident happens, the men first think of their fellow firefighters and think about what they did or can do to help them. They rethink again and again all of what happened during the incident. 

The Rolla Fire Chief and Assistant Fire Chief who were at the incident debriefing meeting told the firemen it was not their fault. They said it was a one in a million incident and that the firemen did what they were supposed to do. 

Smith said when they responded to the fire call on Aug. 16, the firemen did what they have always done when responding to a structure fire. At the meeting, the fire chiefs told the men they executed properly and it was not their fault that six men received injuries.

The first responders said the incident debriefing held at the courthouse was helpful on many fronts. Smith said he appreciates all that Sheriff Chris Heitman, John and the sheriff’s office did, saying they went “above and beyond.” 

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