CORNELL — Cornell firefighter Justin Fredrickson says he is fully recovered from four surgeries this year after he was bizarrely struck by a bullet while extinguishing a house fire near Sheldon on Feb. 19.
Apparently, a loaded .38-caliber pistol within the house had fired, athough no one was inside the structure. The gun became so hot due to conditions from the fire that it began to fire five or six rounds, leaving exit holes in the wall of the house, as bullets flew outside. One of those stray shots struck Fredrickson along his rib cage on his left side.
Fredrickson said he didn’t know what hit him.
“All of a sudden I felt something hit me in the side,” Fredrickson recalled. “It was a burning and stinging feeling. I just thought I got hit by a two-by-four or something that blew out of the house.”
Other firefighters closer to the house heard the shots go off. They looked at Fredrickson and saw he had been injured. They ran over and helped him to the ground, then got his gear off of him.
Fredrickson was taken to a hospital in Ladysmith, then airlifted to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Eau Claire. He had an emergency surgery that night to remove part of his colon and repair his damaged spleen, which needed to be cauterized. However, the bullet remained lodged in his back.
“It missed my spine by a half-inch to an inch,” Fredrickson said. “It’s freaky.”
Cornell Fire Chief Denny Klass wasn’t at the fire scene. He was dumbfounded when he got the call that Fredrickson had been struck by a bullet and needed to go to a hospital. Klass said that with COVID-19 protocols, he couldn’t enter the hospital to see his injured colleague. It was nerve-wracking to wait to hear news of his condition.
“When I finally got to hear his voice ... it still brings me chills,” Klass said. “We’re very fortunate everything turned out the way it did.”
Fredrickson had two more surgeries within the next week.
“They cut me open and flushed me out because I was going septic,” Fredrickson said. “If they hadn’t done that, I would have been dead by the morning.”
Fredrickson would remain hospitalized for two weeks.
When Fredrickson was allowed to leave the hospital, he was greeted outside by six firetrucks from different nearby firefighter agencies. They formed a parade, heading from Eau Claire to the Cornell Fire Station, with four other departments sending vehicles during the trek home.
Klass said in the days after the Feb. 19 fire, his office was inundated with calls of support from fire departments across the country. Departments sent Fredrickson their T-shirts as gifts. They heard from firefighter units from New York to Florida.
“It’s a brotherhood in the fire department, it really is,” Klass said.
While Fredrickson was out of the hospital, he couldn’t return to his job until April. A fundraiser benefit was held for him, and worker’s compensation covered his bills.
“It’s pretty amazing, a small community like this, the way they rallied together for him,” Klass said.
Fredrickson was surprised that the bullet remained lodged in his back. He had another surgery in mid-May to have it removed.
“They said I could have lived with the bullet in me,” Fredrickson said. “But it was moving. I could feel it roll with my finger.”
Fredrickson has the bullet at home, a souvenir of his survival.
Frederickson, 36, graduated from Gilman High School in 2004. He joined the Cornell Fire Department in 2005, and he’s now a 16-year veteran of the agency. The department has 30 firefighters, covering the city of Cornell and parts or all of eight surrounding townships. Fredrickson knew people involved in the department, and that’s why he joined.
“I just enjoy helping and serving the community — helping people when they need it the most.”
Fredrickson works at Lake Holcombe Sales & Service. He has his firefighter gear in his vehicle. When the call came at about 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19 that Sheldon was looking for mutual aid to extinguish a house fire, Fredrickson left work and made the 10-minute drive to the home in the town of Willard. He was among four Cornell firefighters who responded to help out.
Fredrickson has seen plenty of strange things in his firefighter career, but didn’t expect to be hit by a bullet.
“It’s crazy how it all happened,” Fredrickson said. “No matter how much training you do, you just never know.”
Fredrickson coaches wrestling for the Cornell-Holcombe-Gilman co-op team, and he used to coach football. He feels like he has fully recovered from his injuries and is ready to help out whenever he’s called upon.
“He can do anything he could before,” Klass said. “He’s a good, hard-working guy. Our fire department rallied around him, financially and spiritually. It’s great to have him back, 100%.”
Klass, who has been involved in firefighter for five decades, said that as policy, whenever they show up at a fire scene now, they ask if there are loaded guns in the home, and if so, where they are located.
Fredrickson said he is thankful for all the support he’s received in his recovery this year.
“There is no way I could ever thank people enough for what they’ve done for me,” he said. “There is not enough ‘thank you’s’ I could say to show as my appreciation.”
EAU CLAIRE — Three more city wells have been taken offline as the public utility continues its efforts to keep PFAS chemicals out of Eau Claire’s drinking water.
Out of the city’s 16 wells, four were shut down in early July when PFAS were detected in them, and then three additional ones were idled between mid-July and mid-August. Since then, the city has been continuing to take other steps to contain PFAS.
“In fact the situation has improved over the past couple weeks,” said Lane Berg, city utilities manager.
On Sept. 28, the city resumed pumping from three of the previously shut down wells, but sent water from them into holding lagoons instead of Eau Claire’s treatment plant. That is being done to prevent PFAS from sitting in those wells and potentially migrating to others nearby that remain in production.
In the last two weeks PFAS levels fell in the water system, according to tests the city has had done. There were 0.328 parts per trillion of PFAS in samples taken on Sept. 29, but that declined to 0.204 parts per trillion a week ago(Oct. 6).
Ever since the city announced small amounts of PFAS were found in a few of its wells on July 12, Berg noted that Eau Claire has continued to have plenty of safe drinking water for residents.
“The city has ample water supply from its active wells and the Water Utility has continued to deliver water to our residents and consumers satisfying all volume needs while meeting all federal and state safe drinking standards as well as all DNR proposed Recommended Enforcement Standards for PFAS and related chemicals,” Berg said Tuesday in a statement.
Eau Claire uses an average of 9 million gallons of treated water a day. On Tuesday, the city only needed to run five of its wells to produce 10 million gallons to keep water towers and reservoirs full.
“We’ve got a lot of redundancy built into our system,” Berg said.
PFAS are a group of chemicals used since the 1950s in the production of non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and some kinds of firefighting foams.
It’s that last category that the state Department of Natural Resources suspects is the potential source affecting Eau Claire’s municipal wellfield.
The agency sent a letter in early August to Chippewa Valley Regional Airport — located near the wellfield — suspecting that its use of firefighting foam is a potential contributor to PFAS affecting city wells.
“There’s nothing between the wells and the airport that could’ve caused this,” said Matt Thompson, a hydrogeologist with the DNR.
He noted that foam used to fight fires at airports, as well as its use in training and testing, have been linked to PFAS contamination elsewhere in the state.
The local airport is so far the only entity that has gotten a letter identifying it as a potential source of the city well’s PFAS contamination, Thompson said.
The airport has hired an environmental consultant to draft a work plan for dealing with the PFAS contamination, he said. A report is expected to come out in a few weeks.
If the airport is shown to be the cause of the contamination, it will be responsible for taking care of the impacts its PFAS use has had, Thompson said. That could include a filtration system to clean the chemicals out of the public wells.
The city has hired Gannett Fleming, an engineering firm, to map the PFAS flume in the wellfield. By the end of the year, the city expects to have that consultant’s report to determine what needs to be done as a long-term solution for getting rid of the contaminants, Berg said.
“That will really be our driving force,” he said.
Thompson, who is based out of the DNR’s Eau Claire office, said the city is taking the necessary steps to ensure drinking water remains safe.
“The city is testing their water so it is safe for consumption and use,” he said. “They’ve got safe water in the city of Eau Claire.”
PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment.
Scientists are still studying health effects of various PFAS on humans, the state Department of Health Services states on its website. Not all PFAS have the same health effects, but research suggests that high levels of certain chemicals may raise cholesterol levels, decrease how well bodies respond to vaccines, increase risk of thyroid disease, lower fertility in women, increase risk of conditions including high blood pressure in pregnant women, and result in slightly lower infant birth weights.
EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire Express baseball team is getting a 58% price discount on fees for using Carson Park this year.
Normally the Northwoods League team would be charged $44,300 in city fees for using the Eau Claire park’s baseball stadium for a season of home games.
However, on Tuesday afternoon the City Council unanimously decided to reduce those costs for the 2021 season to $18,605 based on significantly lower attendance at games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ticket sales at this year’s games represented about 42% of the average annual sales between 2016 and 2019, according to a city memo.
Last year the team cancelled all of its games and then-City Manger Dale Peters city waived all fees in 2020 specified in Eau Claire’s contract with the Express.
Council members Jill Christopherson and Emily Berge asked Tuesday if federal COVID-19 recovery funds could help the Express and city make up for lost revenue tied to a low-attendance baseball season.
City Finance Director Jay Winzenz said while the American Rescue Plan Act funds can be used to recover lost government revenues, he’s skeptical the city could tap that to make up for the discount provided to the Express.
“It probably won’t be a direct relationship between the two,” he said.
But he noted that minor league baseball teams can seek funds from the state to help them recover some of their ticket sales lost to the pandemic.
The state Department of Administration has up to $2.8 million in grants funded by ARPA to help minor league sports teams recover from economic impacts of the pandemic. An announcement made last month stated grants will be up to $200,000 per team. Teams have until Friday afternoon to apply to that grant program.
Solberg stays interim manager
David Solberg’s term as interim city manager was extended Tuesday by another six months, which now makes it scheduled to end in mid-April.
Solberg, who usually serves as Eau Claire’s engineering director, has led the city since October 2020 when City Manager Dale Peters retired.
Since then, Solberg’s tenure in the interim position has been extended by six months at a time while the city struggled to find a permanent successor for Peters.
The first search ended in February with the council’s chosen candidate opting to take a job elsewhere, which prompted the city to pause and then restart its recruitment.
A second search has begun, including last month’s hiring of executive search firm Polihire of Washington, D.C. for $38,000 to assist the city by finding and screening candidates.
According to resolution extending Solberg’s term, he is receiving 20% above his regular engineering director wages while he is serving as interim city manager.
• A resolution stating Eau Claire is a welcoming place to refugees, including Afghan people currently housed at Fort McCoy, was approved unanimously.