The Storm: Local Residents Share Memories of July 15, 1980

A 1979 general is the oldest fire engine in chief Bruce Fuerbringer's fleet. It's still in use today as a reserve. But on the night of July 15th 1980, and the massive cleanup effort that followed, it was on the front line.


Locals call it "the big wind," "the great storm," or just "the storm." It stretched through Western Wisconsin and destroyed much of what was in its path.


Back then, Fuerbringer had been with the department just 3-years. That night, he was a firefighter-EMT at station-10 with a partner as the storm came closer.


Then the calls started coming in. Concerned neighbors told the firefighters about the power lines that had come crashing down near their homes. It quickly progressed from wires down to tree branches down and then trees down.


Cars started lining up on nearby highway 53 with drivers frantically trying to take cover somewhere. Anywhere.


All of a sudden a man ran up to the door trying to get inside. Fuerbringer and his partner tried desperately to fight the wind and help him open the thing, but it wouldn't budge. The 3-men cracked the door open for a moment before it slammed shut, driving the man away from the building. Fuerbringer never saw him again.


Meanwhile Frank Smoot was in the middle of his shift delivering pizzas at what's now the New York Pizza and Deli on Water Street. Instead of taking cover that night, Smoot got back behind the wheel and drove through what must have seemed like a maze of downed trees to get back to his parent's house in the town of Union. Finally, a large tree blocked his path leaving him a half mile walk to safety.


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