SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) — Since July’s explosion that leveled parts of downtown Sun Prairie, the city has been healing. That includes the fire department, which lost one of its own, Captain Cory Barr, that night.
In the months since, Fire Chief Christopher Garrison said the department has seen an unprecedented number of volunteers signing up. He said it’s a sign the department is moving forward and growing.
“We’ve been through hell and we’re recovering everyday and at some point somebody always wants us to regress and go back but we’re moving forward in Cory’s honor,” he said.
Captain Barr is still a constant in the Sun Prairie Fire Department. Throughout the buildings are tributes to his time here and his response to the July 10th gas leak and explosion that took his life.
“It still lingers with us but our firefighters, in the honor of Captain Barr, have stepped up,” he said. “I mean the dedication to the organization has always been amazing but now it’s to new heights. It’s hard to understand with such a loss but we’ve built on that and we’ve become stronger.”
That includes new firefighters. Garrison said the department currently has 20 new firefighters now in the early stages of training. On top of that, a few familiar faces are picking up their badges once again.
Former training captain, and 27 year firefighting veteran, Kevin Dahmen, is one of them.
“I have a son that’s full time here and he’s like ‘Dad, we could use come drivers,’ and that’s what I used to like to do,” he said.
He took his first shift back behind the wheel in October.
“My two sons were on duty that day and the driver called in sick so I was able to run with two sons Sunday on the 14th for twelve hours, that was a lot of fun,” Dahmen said.
He’s not the only recent returnee. After three years off, Mike Terry paid a visit to the firehouse a week after the explosion.
“A couple of former members got together before Sun Prairie fire was taking back over the station and cleaned everything,” he said. “They cleaned the trucks and all of that and I think just being back here made me realize it was the right time to come back to work if they would have me.”
Terry has been back on for about two months.
“The department’s just really healthy and I’m really happy to be a part of it,” he said.
Garrison said it’s only getting bigger, inspiring new firefighters like Kevin Young.
“From the moment I walked in the door, they were eager to serve,” he said. “I wanted to give a helping hand wherever I could.”
Young joined in August. As the newest firefighters go through training Garrison said they’re not only helping the department grow since July’s explosion but allows them to meet the rising need as Sun Prairie grows in population.
Most importantly, however, the chief said each new member brings a hunger Garrison calls a lasting tribute to those who no longer can serve.
“My office looks at it everyday and it’s a bit easier today than it was yesterday but the Sun Prairie fire department has a new normal,” he said. “We will never be the same and we don’t expect to be the same.”
In the months since, he said the department has forged a close bond with the city of Sun Prairie and has seen gifts and tributes from other departments around the country.
“The only thing we ask is just never forget,” Garrison said. “Never forget Cory and never forget what we went through.”