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Firefighters, EMS and police officers from many different departments responded to a fire at 61 Frank St. in Roberts the night of Tuesday, Jan. 7. The occupant, Roberta Eastman, 66, was pulled to safety, but later died from her injuries. (Photo by Steve Dzubay)

Woman dies from injuries in blaze; State Trooper recognized for life-saving attempt

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A 66-year-old Roberts woman died from injuries sustained in a Jan. 7 trailer home fire, and a Wisconsin State Trooper has been recognized for his heroic attempt to save her life.

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According to a press release from the Roberts Police Department, Roberta Eastman was pulled out of her burning trailer home by Wisconsin State Trooper Robert Unruh on the evening of Jan. 7, taken to Hudson Hospital, and later died at Regions Hospital early on Jan. 8 as a result of her injuries.

Unruh was travelling east on Interstate 94 just past the Hudson scale when he heard the call over his radio.

When Unruh arrived on the scene at 61 Frank St. shortly after 6:30 p.m., Roberts Police Officer Todd Shafer was trying to find a way to get into the trailer to rescue Eastman, but the smoke was too thick.

“All State Troopers are issued a gas mask as part of their gear, though they’re not required to keep it in their cars,” Unruh said. “But I patrol 94 a lot and semis are hauling all kinds of hazardous material, so I carry it in case I might need it.”

Unruh said Shafer could see Eastman laying five to six feet inside the door of the trailer, but could not reach her due to the smoke.

“As I approached, I thought ‘maybe I can get to her with my mask,’” Unruh said.

Unruh said he ran to his car and grabbed his mask. Shafer tightened it in the back for him and he went in.

“To me, it looked like she had made an attempt to get to the door to get out,” Unruh said. “She was only five or six feet away from the door.”

Unruh said he dragged her out onto the snowy front yard, but soon realized they had to get Eastman covered from the freezing temperatures. It was about minus-3 degrees at the time of the fire.

“Honestly the cold was an afterthought though,“ Unruh said. “We both carried her out. Shafer ran and got a blanket from his cruiser. I got one from mine. But her burns were more severe than dealing with the cold at the time.”

Unruh said he noticed the fire intensifying, so he and Shafer quickly carried Eastman across the street between two cars. Unruh said hardly any time had passed when the fire “flashpointed” and the windows blew out of the trailer.

“It was only about five minutes from the time I heard the call to the time we carried her between the cars,” Unruh said.

When Unruh learned later that Eastman had died from her injuries, he was saddened.

“Unfortunately it’s one of those things where you had hoped you had given someone a chance,” Unruh said. “I thought we had really dodged a bullet.”

Unruh received no injuries from his life-saving attempt. This was the first fire he had gone into, he said.

According to Roberts-Warren Fire Chief Glenn Hall, the Wisconsin State Fire Marshal will be involved in the investigation with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department, though foul play is not suspected.

“When someone is injured, the Fire Marshal is called,” Hall said. “That’s normal procedure. There was no suspicious cause determined at all.”

According to the Roberts Police Department press release, a lit cigarette may have contributed to the fire.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Roberta at this difficult time,” Roberts Police Chief Daniel Burgess said. “I would like to commend the heroic acts of Officer Shafer and Trooper Unruh along with the excellent work by EMS and fire personnel in this case.”

Wisconsin State Patrol Captain Jeffrey Frenette said Unruh is an example of an officer going above and beyond his regular duties.

“In this tragic situation I want to commend Trooper Unruh for his heroic and selfless effort. Despite dangers to his own personal safety and without hesitation, he tried to save the life of this woman who was unable to get out of the home,” Frenette wrote.

Roberts-Warren Fire Department was assisted by the United Fire-Baldwin and Hammond stations, River Falls Fire and New Richmond EMS. Roberts Police was assisted by the Wisconsin State Patrol and the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department.

A memorial gathering will be held in Eastman’s honor from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 24 at the O’Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson, with a remembrance service to follow immediately after.

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By Sarah Young

UPDATE -- According to a press release from the Roberts Police Department,  Roberta Eastman, 66, who was pulled out of her burning trailer home last night in Roberts, has died from her injuries.

According to the press release, she was taken to Hudson Hospital by EMS with life-threatening injuries. She was transferred to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. Early this morning, she died.

According to Captain Jeffrey Frenette of the Wisconsin State Patrol, when Northwest Region Trooper Robert Unruh arrived on the scene last night on Frank Street, a Roberts Police Department Officer told Unruh a woman was inside the burning trailer, but couldn’t be rescued because of heavy smoke.

Frenette said Unruh put on a gas mask and went into the burning trailer.

“With the verbal guidance by the Roberts police officer (Todd Shafer) as to the woman’s location, Trooper Unruh was able to quickly locate and drag the unconscious woman out of the building and onto the front yard,” Frenette wrote.

A press release from Frenette said Unruh noticed the fire intensifying while he tended to the woman’s injuries, so he moved her across the street between two squad cars for safety.

“Within moments, the windows of the residence blew out and the mobile home was enveloped in flames as fire department personnel arrived,” Frenette wrote.

According to Roberts-Warren Fire Chief Glenn Hall, The Wisconsin State Fire Marshal will be involved in the investigation with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department, though foul play is not suspected.

“When someone is injured, the Fire Marshal is called,” Hall said. “That’s normal procedure. There was no suspicious cause determined at all.”

According to the Roberts Police press release, a lit cigarette may have contributed to the fire.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Roberta at this difficult time,” Burgess said. “I would like to commend the heroic acts of Officer Shafer and Trooper Unruh along with the excellent work by EMS and fire personnel in this case.”

Frenette said Unruh is an example of an officer going above and beyond his regular duties.

“In this tragic situation I want to commend Trooper Unruh for his heroic and selfless effort. Despite dangers to his own personal safety and without hesitation, he tried to save the life of this woman who was unable to get out of the home,”  Frenette wrote.

Roberts-Warren Fire Department was assisted by the United Fire-Baldwin and Hammond stations, River Falls Fire and New Richmond EMS.  Roberts Police was assisted by the Wisconsin State Patrol and the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department.

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By Steve Dzubay

A woman sustained serious burns Tuesday evening, Jan. 7, in a mobile home fire at the court off Division Street. south of Hwy. 12 in Roberts.

Firefighters from Roberts-Warren, New Richmond, United Fire-Baldwin and River Falls responded to the fire call of a mobile home ablaze at about 6:45 p.m. The home was the second residence east of Division, near the front of the court.

EMS personnel from Roberts-Warren and paramedics and an ambulance from New Richmond also responded.

A radio transmission from a responding police officer who arrived ahead of firefighters said he found the woman and said she was experiencing breathing difficulties and had suffered burns on her hands. She was later transported by ambulance to Hudson Medical Center to be stabilized and possibly transferred to another hospital.

Flames were knocked down within minutes by the first responding units but the mobile home continued to steam and investigation into the cause of the fire continued into the evening, Tuesday.

Also assisting at the scene were Roberts Police, the State Patrol and St. Croix County sheriff's deputies.

The temperature was about -3 at the time of the fire.

Assisting departments cleared the scene by about 8:30 p.m.

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Sarah Young
Sarah Young joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News. She covers primarily Hammond, Roberts and Somerset. Previously she free-lanced for the River Falls Journal, Hudson Star-Observer, RiverTown special publications and the Superior Catholic Herald. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. Before working at the New Richmond News, she was an assistant manager at Philander's Grill & Bar in Prescott. She lives in Prescott with her husband Mike and daughter Carolina.  
(715) 243-7767 x243
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