of the

Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety


Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Charitable Foundation, Inc.

By: Dan Gengler 


July 2016

During a fifteen-day period in 1987, the City of Milwaukee experienced three fires that took the lives of seventeen children and three adults. Those events prompted the Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier to create a task force to address the fire threat in the city. The task force reached the conclusion that fire safety education, especially among children, was the key to reducing tragic fires. Their conclusion prompted the creation of The Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety, an organization that promotes fire safety and burn prevention, and also, supports burn survivors throughout the state of Wisconsin.

The genesis of the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety evolved over many years and too many fire and burn statistics not to have made an impact on the changing the dynamics of fire prevention.  The watershed America Burning Report requested by President Richard M. Nixon in the early 1970’s was a study as to why 12,000 American citizens were dying in fires annually.  The report analyzed years of data including causes of fires, geographical and populous economics.  Contributors to the report were from the National Fire Protection Association, Underwriter’s Laboratories, American Insurance Association, U.S. Department of Commerce, national fire service organizations and educational fields.  A very interested, committed and diverse grouping of professionals.



Results of this report identified many aspects of national fire safety while imposing some very aggressive changes to the fire service mantra, “We’ve always done it this way!”  Fire protective clothing, fire equipment upgrades, fire service training and the creation of the National Fire Academy were just a few of the strong assertions that could change the fire fatality trends of the times.  Note the cover was a picture of a fire in Milwaukee in February 1970 where the child died and ten years later, the firefighter pictured went on duty disability pension from injuries sustained in a 1979 fire.


Addressing the specific fire fatality equation, the report stated fire department and fire safety educational outreach was the key.  Educating the public on four fronts was the formula outlines by the report:

·         Fire Prevention – every building has fire potential that could lead to injury or death, therefore, check-listing and rectifying hazards become a priority as all fires start small and active fire prevention vigilance potentially limits ignition sources.

·         Early Warning – Home smoke alarms were in their infancy when this report surfaced and the aftermath highly accentuated the need to offer quicker identification of fire threats.

·         Evacuation Planning- Once a fire has been identified, getting out of a fire challenged building was identified as paramount in saving lives.  Having a plan to “get out and stay out” was a basic fundamental element for survival.  Meeting at a particular location and then calling the new “9-1-1” format was also mentioned to help.

·         Lastly, the influence of early containment and potential extinguishment came in the form of residential fire sprinklers that would offer the optimum in home life safety.  The residential fire sprinkler had not been invented at this point and took nearly six years to legitimately produce.


With this guide, the government working with the nation’s fire service were able to introduce the suggestions to most of the country.  In 1985, President Ronald W. Regan called for another study as 8,000 Americans were still dying in fires.  Smoke alarms helped reduce fire fatalities and more than 110 firefighters in the country were dying annually.  America Burning Revisited Report was distributed in 1987.  The study produced nearly the same results and suggestions to reduce the incidence of fire fatalities.  The America Burning Recommissioned Report of 1999 was the latest in the series when lives lost to fires still accounted for approximately 6,000 dying.

Fire safety education of all citizens, much less those of the state of Wisconsin, became the key.


Moving forward to 1989, the Milwaukee Fire Department entered into a long relationship with the Wisconsin fire sprinkler industry with the first annual Burn Center Golf Invitational, BCGI.  It was initiated by a National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) residential fire sprinkler workshop that was followed by a brainstorming session to have a golf tournament raising funds for St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center in Milwaukee.  The first event was held in September of that year and raised $19,000 for the charity.  As of 2015, the BCGI has raised more than $2,135,000 for the hospital and related charities while becoming the impetus for starting and becoming the major funder of the WAFS.


Members on the BCGI committee included Milwaukee Fire Captain Dan Gengler and Fire Lieutenant Niles Ottesen, members of the fire sprinkler industry and St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center.  One committee member was Tom O’Connell, NFSA Midwest Regional Manager.  O’Connell was one of the founding members of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance when he served the Chicago Fire Department as Captain.  O’Connell was heavily involved with fire prevention.  For the first two years of committee meetings, he urged Gengler to start a similar organization in Wisconsin.


In January 1991, just prior to Gengler being appointed to Deputy Chief of Administration, he approached Milwaukee Fire Chief August Erdman and asked if he could start an association like the Illinois organization. Chief Erdman thought the idea was excellent and mentioned he could help recruit some quality and influential charter members.  The first meeting was held at the headquarters of the Milwaukee Fire Department on February 22, 1991 with twenty diversified people attending and committing to the concept. 


Original members included Larry Ceretto, formally of the Milwaukee Fire Department then as Dean of Fire Science at the Milwaukee Area Technical College, Appleton Fire Chief Richard Davis representing the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association, Larry Lenox, Milwaukee Public Schools, Dr. Bonni Yordi, Wisconsin Electric Power Company, Dave Fantle, Wisconsin Gas Company, Brad Bauman, Wisconsin Bell, Joe Vorce, Johnson Controls, John Papador, Honeywell, Bob Stedman, WI Fire & EMS Legislative Leadership Coalition, Bill Blazer, Wisconsin State Firefighters, Franklin Fire Chief Dave Bublitz, St. Francis Fire Chief Andy Neargarder, Jeff Crouse, City of Milwaukee Building Inspection, Dave Malek, Star Fire Sprinkler Corporation, John Bakes, Wisconsin Fire Sprinkler Association, Tom O’Connell, National Fire Sprinkler Association and Martin Richter, United States Fire Sprinkler Corporation and Gengler.  By September, 1991, all were elected to serve one or two-year terms in September.


The first Executive Committee, the board’s initial review and advisory group was Chairperson Gengler, Vice-Chairperson Richter, Secretary Vorce and Treasurer Malek.  Attorney Nick Padway, then President of the City of Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission drafted the first Constitution & By-Laws of the organization.  He did so as an in-kind gesture to help a cause he supported.  Padway was the Alliance’s gratis legal advisor for the next 16 years.  The board adopted the constitution unanimously and revised it three times in the subsequent 15 years.  


The Executive Committee members changed over the life span of the organization with Gengler remaining the chair for all of them.  Several in-coming officers really helped move the organization forward with their talents and commitments.  Kay Luedke, US Fire Protection, was probably the most significant.  She held the Treasurer position for nearly 15 years and was an active voice in support of Alliance programming.  She, too, was active with the Burn Center Golf Invitational.


The Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety Board of Directors then created the mission statement: “To promote, encourage and foster fire safety, burn prevention and public fire safety education.  We support burn survivors of all ages as well as sponsorship of the “Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth.”


Working with Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl, the newly formed Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety reached 501©3 status March 17, 1992.  Getting to nonprofit so soon after charter meant financial support would help sustain organizational growth.  Brad Bauman was able to get a $500 donation from Wisconsin Bell to help the WAFS open a bank account in late 1991.


Malek was the BCGI Chair and was instrumental in getting some of the financials under control in the early period.  He was the first treasurer for the Alliance and established accountability from the start.  Reilly, Penner & Benton became the audit firm for the entire existence of the WAFS.  Once the nonprofit status was obtained, the firm ensured rules for compliance were strictly adhered.


In early 1992, the WAFS Board of Directors established some functional committees, the most productive were the membership and educational components needed to establish acceptance and direction.  Chaired by Larry Ceretto, the membership Committee embarked on statewide recruitment.  Following the Wisconsin Department of Industry and labor Relations (DILR) districting, the state was divided into five geographical districts.  The committee looked to recruit all fire departments and fire safety minded organizations into the fold.


The initial campaign to recruit members yielded an excellent response from southeast Wisconsin with relatively respectable reaction from other areas of the state.  An early WAFS event helped the recruitment cause, The WAFS Fall Fire Safety Recognition Luncheon.  At the time the Milwaukee County Fire Chiefs Association had twenty-one county fire departments as members and all attended the second annual luncheon in 1992.  The speaker was Jim Dalton of the National Fire Sprinkler Association.  Dalton was one of the presenters of the 1989 summit about residential fire sprinklers.  This luncheon and its successful response of 129 attendees helped launch recruitment to what was now seen as a viable fire safety affiliation.  By the end of 1993, more than 500 WAFS members were recruited at a one-time $10 admission fee.


The other major influence on the motivation and success of the WAFS was the Education Committee.  Co-chaired by Larry Lenox and Brad Bauman, the committee came up with the organizational logo that stood as the identity for all twenty-four years.  They also produced the first WAFS brochure that was used in the recruitment campaign.  The group developed what became the WAFS mission through its FireSafety 2000 long range plan.  The Board of Directors saw this as an energetic, futuristic and aggressive project that would put pressure on the organization to be responsive and productive to its mission.


FireSafety 2000 established aggressive goals for the WAFS to seek by the year 2000. 

·         Establish a statewide fire safety educational program to help citizens understand the importance of home fire prevention habits.

·         Get the citizens of Wisconsin to understand the life-safety early warning value of smoke alarms by installing them according to state and local requirements and maintain them according to manufacturer’s recommendations.

·         Educate all in the critical response to early warning by establishing and practicing a fire escape plan with the whole family participating.

·         Educate the state on the life-saving and property saving value of the residential fire sprinklers concept.

·         Provide statewide grants for local Survive Alive House/Safety House Programs.

·         Establish a free camp for burn injured children to help them cope and overcome their burn injuries to reach their maximum potential in life.


The WAFS accomplished these goals and several more by 1999.  The camp was realized in 1992 with eight campers going to the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance “Burn Camp.”  The Wisconsin based camp began in 1995.  The Newspapers-in-Education program outreached to nine southeast Wisconsin counties in 1998 and reached all 72 counties by 2002.  Survive Alive House grants of $500 started in 1994 to several fire departments statewide.


The Education Committee moved on when new Board Director, West Allis Fire Chief Ray Schrader took over the chairmanship and helped develop a trade show booth and additional fire safety outreach fire and burn prevention materials.  The booth and outreach became quite prominent at the state’s fire chiefs and inspectors conventions.  Many had served on this committee from the fire service, fire alarm and fire sprinkler industries making its work most productive in the acceptance of the WAFS movement.


FireSafety 2015, under Education Committee Chair Mike Hafeman, DeTech, Inc., a home alarm system company, revised the FireSafety 2000 Goals in 2006 to set new direction for the organization.  The energetic proposal met Board approval to engage in more fire/burn prevention outreach in the state using schools, reaching parents and using the web site with an effective fire safety curriculum.  Working productively to generate revenue to enhance existing and developing new programming was paramount.  And lastly, outreaching to all corners of the state that programming for burn survivors exists through projects like the Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth and World Burn Congress.  


The camp became the flagship of the WAFS early in its history.  In 1992, Director Tom O’Connell was instrumental in getting young Wisconsin burn survivors to the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance (IFSA) experience at Camp Duncan in northern Illinois.  To get Wisconsin children there, we needed a network of resources to find eligible kids.  This was not a hard task.


Chairperson Dan Gengler went to the three hospitals in the state that had burn units, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center in Milwaukee and UW-Health Burn Unit in Madison.  Jody Rosenau, Linda Butke and Andrea Williams represented these hospitals respectively and with more energy than needed.  Rosenau and Butke represented the WAFS as counselors at the 1992 camp in Illinois.


Being invited to camp meant paying the IFSA $650 per camper to help their organization offset administrative, activity room and boarding costs.  The IFSA camp was held in June and final payment was made when the first fire service organization jumped in to help.  It was the Wisconsin State Fire Inspectors Association with a check for $1,000 in late October that first year that completed payments for eight Wisconsin burn injured children.  They had the time of their young lives.


Getting the campers to the Illinois camp was tasked to anyone who could help transport them.  Gengler contacted fire departments near where Wisconsin campers lived and several parents drove their children to the camp.  This helped with relationships that helped eventually foster partnerships with the Wisconsin State Firefighters Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.   


For three years, the WAFS was privileged to have eight young Wisconsin burn survivors attend the camp.  Before the third camp, the IFSA mentioned that the WAFS could send children in 1994 and ’95 but would have to find another camp after as their camp was getting more and more populated.  Immediately a steering committee was formed to have Wisconsin fund its own camp.  The group decided to host the camp by 1995.


The original team of four was expanded by inviting new influences with the same vigor to help.  Included were Bob Kane, Mainstream Theatrical Productions and burn survivor, Renee Kielich, St. Mary’s Burn Unit supervisor.  Kane, himself a burn survivor, was part of the location search team.  He was high energy and dedicated to make the camp an experience for campers and counselors.  His group settled on Camp Timber-lee outside Troy Center as the best camp site and a reasonable location for travel.


Kielich took the project on for college credits to create the original camp policies and direction.  Her efforts resulted in a very comprehensive and top quality system that set the pace for success.  Kielich created a detailed format for all aspects of the program including recruitment of campers and staff, training for staff, rules for campers, activity concepts and so on. 


A very productive member of the original steering committee has been Alden Taylor.  After the 1993 camp, Gengler was able to get WITI, Milwaukee Channel 6 to do an interview with a camper.  The exposure got a lot of interest piquing in the Milwaukee television market, the first real media outreach.  A feature Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article with front page picture also helped with the recognition.   Ms. Taylor contacted Gengler, then a Milwaukee Deputy Fire Chief, and mentioned she wanted to help.  She said her son was a burn survivor and that she wanted to start a camp too.  Her influence and philanthropic support has been monumental in the success of camp and its activities ever since.


Meetings were held monthly from April 1994 to the Wisconsin in 1995.  St. Mary’s burn care nurse Tracy Unertl was the first Activities Director and she was thoroughly immersed into making the week-long event fun for everyone.  At every meeting, Unertl explained the changes in her schedule.  She did a great job and set the pace for excellence.


One element was to have a name for camp.  Several members of the original steering committee got together to give the camp a purposeful title.  They conjured up the Wisconsin Alliance for Fire Safety Summer Camp for Burn Injured Youth.  They believe the Illinois camp, called Burn Camp had a negative connotation to it and felt their suggestion covered the concept.  Member, Milwaukee Fire Lieutenant Mark Zellner was very emphatic about this as his rationale was that the burn camp reference was more negative than positive for campers.  He also recruited a friend to produce the first camp brochure and it was Robert A. Zimmerman who coined the tag phrase on the brochure; “There is no healing power more miraculous than the support of a friend.”


One of the obstacles was how to get campers from home to the camp if parents didn’t deliver them.  From the beginning, the camp had kids come from all corners of the state.  With some firefighters taking campers to Illinois, the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin (PFFW) stepped in and committed to being the chauffer service.  Ultimately, the PFFW assigned Dave Bozanko to sit on the Burn Camp Steering Committee.  He later joined the WAFS Board of Directors.


With all preparations in place, the first camp commenced with counselors showing up August 5, 1995.  Nearly all first year staff were from the fire service or health care fields.  Camp supplies and materials were stored in Cypress, the lower storage room used to this day during WAFS camp week.  Twenty-two counselors showed up the first day for introductions, training and familiarity with the camp grounds.


On Sunday, August 6, thirty-seven anxious campers started to arrive at the noon hour.  It was fun seeing the wide eyes and anxiety on the faces of the new campers.  Gengler distinctly remembers the look of 9-year old Deshawn Parker, a physically burn scarred and scared boy.  His mother saw a need to help him quickly adjust.  She told Gengler that she was so impressed with the welcome and surroundings that she was going to stay and send her son home.  He stayed, and as an adult, still helps with the camp activities staff.


The camp started with 37 campers and ended with 34 that week.  One child was homesick, another lost a grandparent and the third said she wasn’t burned bad enough to stay and went home.  


Then the week started.  Thanks to Kane, Kielich and the Burn Camp Steering Committee’s preparation, the fun started immediately.  The only thing not prepared for was the weather.  Temperatures for the week were in the high nineties and even reached 102° one day.  The heat index for the week was more 100° nearly every day.   Burn scarring does not allow sweating from the closed pores and makes higher temperatures even more uncomfortable as the heat transfers to other areas of the body.  Fans were purchased, enough for each cabin attempting to bring some relief.  Rain one day didn’t dampen any activity of fun.


From the beginning, safety was a paramount concept for all.  That was to ensure the counselors and staff were in a safe environment.  This would result with the campers being safe as well.  The Health Center was coordinated by Andrea Williams, UW-Health, and prepared to handle almost any medical emergency.  Camp counselor Tom “Doc” Schneider, Head Surgeon at St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center was readily available for advanced situations.  There were additional health care professionals in attendance serving as staff or counselors and included several paramedics and EMT’s.


Only one incident happened the first camp of note.  An intern at UW-Health had an allergic reaction to riding a horse.  Since he never had been on a horse before, he didn’t know he was allergic.  His reaction made him very uncomfortable, so he went home.


An interesting note was that one counselor appeared on Saturday only to say he was going home Sunday night as he had to work that Monday morning.  This created a little dilemma as staff was just enough to handle the numbers at camp.  The next day a man rode in on his bike as he had heard about the specialty camp.  He was a recent burn survivor and was curious.  Bill Ester, hearing of a need for another counselor said he’d be back in a few hours as he rode his bike back to Burlington, about 15 miles, and returned to finish the week.  



The first Media Day, was held o



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