Keokuk fire anniversary

Photo Credit: Courtesy: Keokuk Gate City

December 22, 1999 will be a day of remembrance in the city of Keokuk.

Ten years ago, three firefighters and three children died in a house fire.

The fire was later ruled an accident.

Assistant Chief Dave McNally and firefighters Jason Bidding and Nate Tuck were killed by a flashover.

That's basically when everything in an area reaches a hot enough temperature that it ignites, and causes a huge fireball.

KHQA went back to the Keokuk firehouse to talk to Fire Chief Mark Wessel about this anniversary.

The mood inside this fire station can be described as normal, sort of. Chief Wessel says the three firefighers who were killed ten years ago wouldn't want it to be any other way.

"It's attempted to be kept light...not too heavy. Everybody processes things differently. For some people it may not have much of an effect at all. For others, they may be thinking about it a little bit more," says Wessel.

About half of the city firefighters were on the department ten years ago. The other half are new. Still there's an underlying theme of respect and remembrance on this day every year.

"Believe it or not, it's been one of the tougher anniversaries. I don't know why. Maybe it's because it is ten years. Maybe it's because I realize it's ten years out, it's still like it was yesterday," says Wessel.

Wessel says this is something he'll never get over. He still keeps in touch with the families that were left behind. In fact, two of Assistant Chief McNally's sons are on the department.

"My heart is really heavy for the families. They are the ones who are missing something," says Wessel.

The fact that the accident happened three days before Christmas also weighs heavy on Wessel's mind. But he says over the last ten years, it's clear these three firefighters did not die in vein.

"We've made a lot of changes. We were able to examine our operations fully and dissect it. We looked at everything we do. We've enhance our personnel safety for firefighters," says Wessel.

Despite the big price that was paid, Chief Wessel says something good did come from this fire. It's been a big learning tool for fire departments all across the country. Wessel hopes the knowledge gained from this accident has saved other lives...something firefighters do a lot, even if it means losing theirs in the process.

Chief Wessel adds if it ever gets to the point where December 22nd is just another day, firefighters all across the country would lose all they gained from this horrific tragedy.

Another good thing that happened after this fire...the awareness of thermal imaging technology.

You may remember KHQA's Rescue Cam campaign, which helped raise money to buy thermal imaging cameras for every fire department in the Tri-States which needed them.

Thermal imaging technology can be a lifesaver, including help detect flashovers because they alert a firefighter when a room is getting too hot.

Chief Wessel told me today he appreciates his community's support to buy two original thermal imaging cameras, but at one time worried what would happen when they needed to be replaced.

"I'm happy to say when that equipment became outdated and too much to maintain, we went back to the city council with a budget request to update and maintain thermal imaging program. It was like okay, just like you need lights," says Wessel.

By the time the campaign ended, area fire departments had bought more than 30 rescue cams, thanks to your donations.