The village of Pulaski in Brown County was stunned Wednesday after Pulaski Tri-County Fire Department Chief Frank Wichlacz was killed in an accident at the volunteer department's fire station.
Wichlacz, 76, who was a member of the department for 51 years, was pinned between a bay door and a fire tanker when a pickup truck being moved by another firefighter crashed through the door at 6:30 a.m., said Chief Randal Dunford of the Pulaski Police Department.
"You're losing a figure that you saw every day around the community and was actively involved throughout the community," Dunford said during a televised news conference Wednesday afternoon. "You're in shock when you realize something tragic like this happens."
According to Dunford, Wichlacz and other firefighters had just returned from battling a blaze in Maple Grove and were putting away gear and equipment.
A fire tanker needed to be refilled with water, but the bay through which it had to be driven was blocked by a firefighter's personal pickup.
Another firefighter entered the truck and began backing it toward another bay door when the vehicle "accelerated out of control," crashing through the door, Dunford said.
Wichlacz was inside the station behind the door and in front of a parked tanker. Another firefighter narrowly escaped injury, Dunford said.
Wichlacz, who had to be extricated, was taken to St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, where he was pronounced dead at 7:15 a.m., Dunford said.
"He did die in the line of duty," Dunford said.
The Brown County Sheriff's Department accident reconstruction team conducted an investigation at the scene of the crash, and the pickup was impounded.
Dunford requested that a mechanical inspection of the truck be conducted by the State Patrol motor vehicle inspection team.
"We cannot yet determine if the accident is the result of a mechanical error or a human error," he said. "We have no reason to believe that there was any reckless conduct in the actions of the firefighter."
Wichlacz was chief of the department since 1985, and his funeral will be conducted with full firefighter services.
"This man was so passionate about his work in public service," said Greg Steenbock, a Pulaski police officer.