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New assistant chief stresses teamwork

Ed Vlack moves into the position of assistant fire chief, a job in which he'll help organize the department's in-house training. Vlack is perhaps best known to many as a St. Croix County Circuit Court judge. Photo courtesy of McConnell Photography

Slated to officially become an assistant chief after the September Police and Fire Commission meeting, Ed Vlack says his volunteer firefighting job has never been about him but about the whole group that makes it all happen.

Fellow firefighters decided he should be the one to fill the assistant chief position left open after Chris Cernohous advanced to the interim chief position.

In taking the job mostly responsible for in-house training, Vlack joins two other assistant chiefs, Mike Moody and Paul Cudd.

"I'm the training officer," said Vlack, a firefighter since 2000, "but there are a number of people who help me do that," mentioning specifically Battalion Chief Gary "Stump" Eloranta and Battalion Chief Dan Moe.

He said the department trains every Monday night for 3-4 hours unless it's a holiday. Vlack said some work he does at home and some at the fire hall.

For example, this week before training, he worked on updating a portion of the department's on-scene protocol.

Vlack says his fellow firefighters take external classes on top of the weekly in-house training, all of which involve a written and/or practical exam.

Usually offered through the Chippewa Valley Technical College, the volunteers take 60 hours for an introduction to firefighting. They get a collective 66 hours of education during firefighting I and II classes.

The First Responder course with AED and CPR certification involves 64 hours, with recertification requiring 32 more hours of education every two years.

Hazardous materials training is another 24 hours worth of education. Vlack says in addition to the "required" courses, many take a fire-inspection class.

"We are also fortunate to have at least five state certified fire instructors on our department," he said, "namely, Chief Chris Cernohous, Eloranta, Moe, Lieutenant Dean Grisar and Lieutenant Evan Larsen."

Other classes also include roughly 50 hours each for fire officers, fire training-officers, pump operators and rapid-intervention training, which teaches about rescuing trapped firefighters.

"There's a very large commitment," Vlack emphasized about training beyond the in-house Mondays.

Answering the call

Vlack said about volunteering as a firefighter, "Everybody on the department has their own reasons, but I think it's a concept of giving back to community."

Elected St. Croix County Circuit Court judge in 2001, Vlack responds to fire calls anytime he's not attending to judicial duties.

He said the pager might go off during dinner, golf or the middle of the night. Vlack said firefighters don't lament the interruptions since the job is all about keeping people and each other, safe.

So what inspired him to become a firefighter?

He said, "It's the best second job in the world."

Vlack says he doesn't have other firefighters in his family but suspects that a vivid memory from his childhood may have influenced him.

As a 9-year-old boy living in northern Illinois, he recalls seeing a bad school fire.

The newest assistant chief thinks the sometimes-tragic circumstances of the job may be its biggest challenge.

As for what he likes best about it, Vlack says, "It doesn't make any difference who you are or what you do or who you know, once you walk through the doors of that fire hall, you're all equal."