Wouldn’t you just know it. The guy who’s a lieutenant on the La Farge Volunteer Fire Department AND an anchor of CROPP’s maintenance crew, with 14 and 17 years under his belt respectively, was in Black Earth, Wisconsin, when the headquarters fire broke out.

In fact, Zach first learned of the fire at 6:30 p.m. as he and his family were sitting down to a Fish Fry dinner (two hours after it began) when his worried father called to check on him and his wife, Kami (who is also a long-time CROPPie).

“What fire?”

Biermann called fellow maintenance crew member Dean Steinmetz (also a La Farge volunteer fire fighter) to get the details…

The just-served dinners were dumped into to-go boxes and Zach was on the scene in full gear by 8:00 p.m.  By then, the roof had sagged. It was quite a shocking sight, even to this veteran fire fighter.

“I never thought that building would catch fire,” Zach said.

But as a seasoned fire-fighter, Zach immediately took up a key role in the fight. He was now in charge of “accountability” at the scene, a vital fire-fighting responsibility designed to assure safety through rock-solid communication. The accountability head makes sure every single person on the scene is accounted for at all times. It requires a lot of checking in and open lines—in the case of this 11-alarm fire, Zach had to find the chief of each department on the scene, gather the list of fire fighters and establish the safety of each. Then continue to monitor in order to assure that the building was the only entity damaged. It would be an intense and exhausting night for Biermann.

A quarter-million gallons of water (more than enough to dangerously draw down the La Farge water supply, which hovered at 30% when the effort switched to tankered truckloads sucked from the Kickapoo River), and 117 safe fire fighters later, at 3:00 a.m. Zach was relieved by Joe Pfaff, chief of the Stoddard Bergen Volunteer Fire Department.

After a few hours of “sleep,” Zach was back on the scene at 6:00 a.m. and worked Accountability until the fire was officially out, and the building was turned back over to CROPP personnel. Which, of course, included Zach among many others. His work was only beginning. (A longer story for later.)

From left: Zach, Dan Mosgaller and Jim Wedeberg take in the sight of the HQ the day after the fire.

From left: Zach, Dan Mosgaller and Jim Wedeberg take in the sight of the HQ the day after the fire.

Zach will have none of the “hero talk” directed his way. Truth is, he says, the real heroes in this effort were the employees of CROPP, the trained “wardens” who provided the arriving firefighters with 100% assurance that all souls were out of the building.”

“That was the heroic thing. When the first fire departments came, they knew immediately that all were accounted for. That’s huge when you first approach a fire, and we have the wardens to thank for that,” Biermann said.

CROPP HQ west wing the morning after the fire

CROPP HQ west wing the morning after the fire