Heroes Not So Hard To Find In Northern Wisconsin

I’ll bet you know someone like Dolores Brandt, the recently retired Chief of the Spider Lake Volunteer Fire Department. Or a couple like Betty Jo and Bob Brown, who served as emergency fire wardens for Washburn County for over 61 years. You probably know quite a few people like them, people who go out of their way to make their community a better place.

For over 30 years, Dolores generously gave her time and energy to her community. After serving in the United States Army, she volunteered not only with the Fire Department, but also with local organizations such as the Jaycettes, Spider Lake Improvement Association, Hayward Lakes Association, Girl Scouts, Sno-Mads Snowmobile Club, and Natureland Homemakers.  

I was honored to be able to attend her retirement party at the Spider Lake Town Hall on a recent Sunday afternoon. Retiring from the Fire Department will give Dolores more time to add to her impressive total of over 100 legal Muskies caught, but she doesn’t have any intention of giving up volunteering.  Dolores plans to continue serving as a volunteer for Fishing Has No Boundaries Inc. both at the national level and with the local Hayward Chapter.

Individuals like Dolores can be found throughout Northern Wisconsin. As someone said to me recently, we in the North are doubly blessed, we live in the most beautiful part of the state and we have neighbors who truly take care of each other.

As the state cuts back on its commitment to helping local governments fund the services their residents depend on, communities have to rely more and more on volunteers, especially when it comes to Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Transportation and First Responders. These people literally lay their lives on the line for their neighbors.  And sometimes they aren’t as fortunate as Dolores and others who live to enjoy their retirements.

Last year, a dedicated EMT for the Shore South Ambulance Service died trying to save his 95 year old mother who also perished in the fire that took his life. Dennis Swenson left behind an abundance of family and friends; he did not leave behind a family who depended on him for financial support.

Unfortunately, other public servants who lose their lives in the line of duty do leave behind spouses and children who depend on their incomes and benefits. In 2009 the legislature passed a law that required municipalities to pay health insurance premiums for the survivors of a firefighter who dies in the line of duty.  For some reason, the law did not extend the same benefit to the surviving spouses and children of law enforcement officers, Emergency Medical Technicians, Rangers, Foresters and other who lose their lives while on duty protecting the public. 

I am happy to report that the Senate has passed a bill I co-authored with one of my colleagues, Republican State Senator Van Wanggaard, a retired Racine Police Officer, to fix this oversight. The bill will extend health insurance coverage for spouses and children of law enforcement officers, DNR firefighters, correctional officers and EMTs who are killed in the line of duty.  There isn’t a lot of time left in the legislative session, but I hope my colleagues in the State Assembly will step up and take care of the surviving families of the people who take care of theirs by passing Senate Bill 192.