Chief: Dispatchers made the difference in Brin Theater fire

Published: Aug. 13, 2018 at 6:48 PM CDT
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"This is one every 10- to 15-year type of fire," Neenah-Menasha Fire/Rescue Chief Kevin Kloehn remarked.

Despite its size, no one was injured or killed in Friday evening's fire at the former Brin Theater in Menasha. It houses several apartments and a few businesses and sustained major damage when the fire caused the roof to collapse.

Nearly a dozen fire departments responded, and we're told at one point they had four ladder trucks in the air trying to put out the blaze.

While the fire chief commends everyone who worked this event, he had extra praise for the 911 dispatchers.

Dispatch: "Engine 35, Engine 32, Engine 36, Car 32, Quint 32, respond for a structure fire. It will be at the intersection of Tayco Street and Kaukauna Street in Menasha. Smoke and flames coming from the roof of a building."

That was how Winnebago County 911 dispatcher Noah Henke, who took the first call about the Brin building fire, sent the initial crews to the scene.

Henke then managed the incident for the next 8-plus hours.

It's the largest fire he's dispatched for in nearly a year-and-a-half working for Winnebago County.

"It was a lot of calling different agencies, different counties to get the departments there, plus paging out other calls that came in during that time. We had a few other higher priority, major calls that came in besides the large fire with other fire departments. So, just paging them out and getting them to the scene," Henke said.

It was a job well done, according to the Neenah-Menasha fire chief, who said having dispatchers manage the mutual aid calls freed his firefighters up to focus solely on the fire.

"They're the backbone of the operation, because they're with communication that's always the biggest, that's one of the biggest aspects of fighting a fire that big," Kloehn said.

Henke said he doesn't believe he deserves the credit for how smoothly things ran on Friday night. He said it was truly a team effort by the dispatchers in the 911 center.

The investigation into the fire continues. We're told the building has been turned over to its owner, and an insurance company will determine if the nearly 90 year old structure can be salvaged.