Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 28, 2001

Fire destroys Gueningsman Automotive Specialists' shop

By Patrice Waldron

The cause has been ruled unknown, but the damage will never be forgotten.

The shop of Gueningsman Automotive Specialists was destroyed by fire May 20, along with two customized trucks used in truck pulls, and the tools and entire contents of the building.

One customer's motorhome was also apparently destroyed, however, several other customer vehicles were away from the building and not damaged.

Fire investigator Casey Stotts, who was called to scene because of the extent of the fire, said the cause was determined to be accidental, probably related to electrical.

"The hardest part was losing the two pulling trucks. There was a lot of time invested in them," said Kay Gueningsman.

"We tried to get them out, but it was just too hot," she continued.

According to the McLeod County dispatch, a call from the Gueningsmans was recorded at 4:21 p.m. that Sunday afternoon.

Winsted firefighters en route to the fire could see flames shooting above the trees, so the call went out from Fire Chief Paul Herbolsheimer to "roll all trucks."

Mutual aid calls were eventually placed to Lester Prairie, New Germany, Howard Lake, and Glencoe fire departments as well.

The large fire required the constant refilling of tankers to keep water supplied.

A drop tank was set up, which consists of a metal frame and a canvas-like pool, which holds about 2,000 gallons of water. The tankers refilled at the Winsted fire hall, and at the fire hydrant near Scherpings Systems.

Water supply was not a factor. "With the use of the drop tank, although it came close, it never emptied," said Herbolsheimer.

There was always enough water, thanks to the mutual aid of surrounding communities, said Herbolsheimer.

"At no time did we ever have to shut down and wait for water," he continued.

"We were very fortunate that the mutual aid agreement partners responded as quickly as they did, providing us the necessary water capacity to suppress that fire," said Brad Millerbernd, who served as pump operator during the fire.

This fire, with the heat, intensity, and the type of materials burning in the structure, provided a challenge for the firefighters.

Stored within the burning building were tires, cases of oil, tools, parts, and 55-gallon drums of flamable liquids.

With the explosive materials in the building, it was very fortunate that there were no injuries, said Herbolsheimer.

On standby, at the scene, was an ambulance and crew, dispatched from Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia.

Others were involved in the clean-up stage. Up in the rafters, there was a large amount of cellulose insulation.

Firefighters climbed onto the roof, and, used poles about nine feet in length with a metal hook on the end to check the insulation for flare-ups.

A Litzau Excavating septic truck was also called in to pump insulation out of the building.

When the Winsted fire department arrived on the scene, it was carrying 4,000 gallons of water. In all, approximately 40,000 gallons of water were used to fight the blaze.

"Initial fire suppression was with water, and then the decision was made to follow up with foam on the hot spots," said Herbolsheimer.

"Foam is used where it will do the most good," he continued.

Firefighters also used a thermal imaging camera, which aids in making sure the fire is really out.

Lester Prairie brought its camera, which is used to find 'hot spots.' The camera allows one to look through the steel sheeting material, through the walls, into the structure.

Mutual aid agreements between municipalities ensure that in times of need, such as a large structure fire, there are enough personnel, tankers for hauling water, and other equipment to adequately fight the fire.

When multiple fire departments become involved, the officer in charge of the first responding fire department, becomes what is known as the incident commander. He is responsible for directing the operation, explained Herbolsheimer.

As the incident commander, Herbolsheimer had the job of requesting mutual aid from various surrounding cities. The fire chiefs of those departments then decide what equipment they can send, while still protecting their own city.

In this case, because of the extent of the fire, tankers were requested. Both Lester Prairie and New Germany arrived at the scene with two tankers each.

Lester Prairie also provided firefighters and a rescue vehicle; New Germany also provided personnel, Howard Lake provided a tanker, with two personnel, and Glencoe brought the McLeod County air van.

"Mutual aid works well. None of us are big enough, with enough personnel, or we can't, each afford the equipment," said Howard Lake Fire Chief Joe Drusch.

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