Pulaski Fire Chief Killed in Accident
Pulaski mourns longtime fire chief
Wichlacz killed in accident; remembered for community service
By Andy Nelesen, Green Bay Press Gazette
PULASKI - Fire Chief Frank Wichlacz dedicated the last 50 years to protecting his community and helping neighbors and strangers alike as a member of Pulaski Tri-County Fire Department.
Wichlacz was killed in the line of duty Wednesday in freak accident at the fire station where he'd served as chief since 1985.
A firefighter moving a personal pickup from one parking spot to another crashed into an overhead bay door about 6:30 a.m. and crushed Wichlacz between the door and a fire department tanker truck parked less than 2 feet away.
"The vehicle accelerated out of control as the fireman was moving it, striking the bay door," Pulaski Police Chief Randal Dunford said. "Wichlacz just happened to be walking between the bay door and a parked tanker inside the fire station."
Firefighters had been cleaning up after responding to an early morning fire in nearby Maple Grove, one of five communities the department serves.
Wichlacz, 76, was pronounced dead at St. Vincent Hospital about 7:15 a.m.
Brown County Medical Examiner Al Klimek said an autopsy showed Wichlacz died as the result of severe chest and leg injuries sustained in the crash.
"It is complicated by the fact that the vehicle struck the building, the building struck the chief and then the chief struck another vehicle," Klimek said.
The Pulaski Tri-County Fire Department rigs were out of service for at least 24 hours beginning Wednesday morning, with more mutual aid coverage available from other departments if needed, said James Styczynski, Pulaski's second assistant fire chief.
"We're coping with it," Styczynski said. "It's very unique for us to go through this situation, but everyone grieves in their own way. It's going to take time."
Funeral arrangements are not yet set, but Pulaski Village President Keith Chambers said Wichlacz will receive full line-of-duty honors due a fallen firefighter.
"He loved the fire department," said firefighter Brian Killinger. "That's what he did."
Wichlacz is survived by his wife, Diane, and three grown children.
Dunford said crash reconstructionists and vehicle inspectors have been called in to help with the crash probe.
"We cannot yet determine if the accident is a result of a mechanical error or human error," Dunford said. The name of the firefighter driving the pickup was not made public Wednesday.
"At this time, dealing with the investigation, we don't want his name to be released for his own sake as he deals with this," Dunford said. "At this point there's no indication of any wrong doing or any reckless conduct. We don't feel at this time that it's appropriate to release his name."
The firefighter - a 5-year-veteran - is in contact with counselors, Dunford said.
"He's struggling with it," Dunford said.
The community was reeling Wednesday as news of Wichlacz's death spread.
Chambers, who served on the fire department with Wichlacz for 25 years, said Wichlacz lived to serve the community.
"Frank would always say he was going to retire, then smiled," Chambers said. "He lived and breathed ... for the fire department."
Chambers said he was told Wichlacz also said this year's Polka Days would be the final time he volunteered for the annual event - a fire department fundraiser.
"But he said it smiling," Chambers said.
Harold Otto, Polka Days chairman, knew Wichlacz for more than 40 years as a dedicated, hard working friend.
Wichlacz traveled the Midwest in his antique Studebaker promoting Polka Days while attending car shows across the region, Otto said.
Wichlacz was a great organizer and could motivate people to help out, Otto said. He would also let people know when they weren't answering the call.
"When he thought something was wrong, he let you know about it," Otto said with a smile. "He'd get it taken care of right then and there."
Otto said Wichlacz never asked for credit or recognition. He was all about getting things accomplished.
"If something had to be done, it'd get done," Otto said. "He was quite a guy."
Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs' Association
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Thread: Chief Frank Wichlacz
07-24-2008, 03:25 PM #1
Chief Frank Wichlacz
07-25-2008, 10:29 PM #2
How horrible. RIP Chief Wichlacz.What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
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