New firefighters train as real-life victims from Town of Seymour recover

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EAU CLAIRE COUNTY, Wisc. (WEAU) - A fire destroyed a home in Eau Claire County Friday, but on Saturday, family members said they're lucky, thanks to rescuers who are extensively trained to fight such fires.

The fire started at a home in the Town of Seymour where flames could be seen from the home on North 50th Avenue.

The fire was called in around 7:30 Friday night and was under control in within two hours.

The Gruen family home is a complete loss, but they said no one was hurt or home at the time.

Fire crews are still investigating the cause, but the family said an electrical problem may be to blame.

"I immediately rushed over here and when I pulled up, the road was filled with firefighters," Lisa Gruen, said after she heard about the fire at the home of her parents-in-law. "The whole house was in flames."

The Gruen family was picking up the pieces left in charred rubble after the home they built with wood from nearby trees in 1978 was destroyed in the fire.

Samantha Gruen said thankfully her grandparents weren't home when the fire started.

"If (Becky Gruen) would've been here, she probably would've spent all her time trying to save things and she probably would've got caught up in in and not been able to get out herself," Samantha Gruen said.

"We were able to save a few very important pieces with the help of the fire department and the family," Lisa Gruen said.

The items saved included Jim Gruen's guitar signed by 14 country music stars over the past 25 years, his boyhood teddy bear, and Becky Gruen's diamond necklace; a gift from her grandmother, along with hundreds of pictures, and $3,100 from a recently cashed check that was in an envelope.

"The firefighter reached in and grabbed a box of pictures as they were burning and pulled them out so she could save some of those memories. So we're incredibly grateful for what they did," Lisa Gruen said.

Dwindling fire departments have been a cause for concern, Chippewa Valley Technical College adjunct instructor John Neihart said.

"Fire departments are always looking for membership," he said.

"The importance of how badly we needed them last night can't be measured," Lisa Gruen said.

Just a few miles away from the Gruens' home, 20 new firefighters through CVTC finished their training with a controlled burn Saturday to be prepared for a similar emergency.

"I didn't expect it to go up that quick ... It was nothing I expected. It was a lot more," Garret Yohnk, a firefighter in training from Anson said.

"You can do a lot in the classroom, but the real thing is the experience they need, so it does give them live fire experience," Neihart said.