In the Midst
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Museum Staff, "The Fire Chief's Worst Fire," Firefighters to the Rescue A Century of Fires in Cokato, 1896-1996 (Cokato Historical Society, 1996) 39-40.
Cokato Hotel Fire, June 8, 1977.
Being a volunteer fireman for 31 years is quite a record. Lyle Severson became a fireman at the age of 23 at the urging of his father-in-law, Eldon Wessman, who was a fireman. He served as chief from 1976 to 1981. As long as he is able to pass the yearly physical, he wants to continue on the department, especially since he and Alvie Cole are vying for a friendly record of service.
His biggest challenge was the Cokato Hotel fire. The alarm came in about 2:30 a.m. on June 8, 1977. By noon the structure was ready to collapse. Firefighters were on the scene until that afternoon when the scene was turned over to investigation by the state fire marshal's office. It was a traumatic time since five lives were lost. He knew the victims as good old guys who lived in the only affordable housing for single people at the time.
In fire fighting, human life is the first priority; arriving at the scene, the whereabouts of the residents had to be determined. Much time was spent in a threatening situation trying to locate one person who was staying with a friend, which was not determined until that afternoon.
Help came from Dassel, Howard Lake, and Litchfield which had a new pumper. NSP came with a bucket truck, since none of the fire departments had an aerial ladder. The three-story frame structure, built in 1883, had long been a concern of fire for the local department. It had been remodeled with several additions. False ceilings and walls, where fire can hide, hampered the fighting. The open stairway would not meet code today.
Death makes a fire different from property loss. When a life is lost, fireman have to deal with the emotions. The hotel fire was the worst fire Lyle experienced in his many years of fire fighting.