By Ben Rodgers
HOBART – Jim Ambrosius got a call from his son James at 10:25 p.m. Aug 7. There was a fire at Jim’s brother’s house. Nearly 30 minutes later, Jim would help save his brother’s life.
Because he lives about a mile away, and is assistant chief of the Hobart fire department, Jim was at Dutchman Creek Dairy Farm in southern Hobart before 10:30 p.m. that night, just 5 minutes after being notified.
When he arrived, a cattle barn was fully engulfed. But his brother Mike, 63, was nowhere to be seen.
“When I pulled into the yard James was in there pushing cattle out,” Jim said. “I figured Mike was in the barn somewhere, because normally at that part of the night he’s in the barn.”
The father and son along with the help of a neighbor moved roughly 60 cattle from the flaming barn. About 13 cattle and calves could not be saved before everyone had to evacuate.
“It was involved,” Jim said. “At the back end stuff was dripping from the ceiling. Doors were falling down already.”
It’s not easy to move a 1,500 pound cow, but those on the inside did their part to spook the cattle away flames burning down the barn they call home.
“They were pulling the last of the cattle off and the thing I said was ‘I’m going to make one more pass of the barn,’ because I thought Mike was in there,” Jim said. “I was yelling and screaming so then I decided to check the milk house, but by that time the power lines had melted.”
Jim cut power to the farm and told police officers on the scene that he couldn’t find his brother Mike.
“I went to the back door of the house, but that was locked, so then officers started tapping windows with their nightsticks,” Jim said.
Mike’s memory of that evening is spotty, but he said he remembers a commotion.
“I tried to find some shoes to come out there, I went down the steps, but that’s all I remember,” Mike said.
He wouldn’t have another memory until he woke up in a hospital on Thursday, Aug. 9.
Mike was found face down in the hallway by his brother Jim, who started to administer CPR.
Jim then handed off the CPR to Michael Linseen, a volunteer with the Lawrence Fire Department who is also a paramedic.
The rescue squad arrived minutes later and used a defibrillator on Mike. He was suffering from a heart attack.
By 11:05 p.m. he was stable and enroute to the hospital.
As soon as Jim went to look for his brother, Kurt Minten, Lawrence chief, took over the scene.
“In my mind I’m thinking Jim’s brother has a medical issue and I got to take care of this fire because Jim cares more about his brother than the barn burning,” Minten said.
Minten is a 25-year veteran of the fire department and immediately his mind assessed the scenario with the two simultaneous situations.
“The hard part was knowing Jim’s brother was missing for a while,” he said. “But we had a longer driveway with power lines, so we couldn’t get an engine in closer. The roof was down, and the water supply, it’s a rural area and we needed a lot of water.”
Minten directed the trucks as close as he could and from there they used hoses. His first objective was to save the surrounding buildings, one of which had two freshly filled fuel tanks outside.
“In my mind the barn is gone, but it’s still standing,” Minten said. “There was nothing we were going to do to save it.”
Two tanker trucks and four hoses poured through nearly 300,000 gallons of water and the fire was contained by 11:30 p.m.
Crews stayed on the scene until 5:45 a.m. putting out the fire and returned the next day for a small spot fire.
In total, 15 departments, nine engines and two ladder trucks responded to the call, with most of the firefighters being volunteers. In the end only the milk barn was a total loss.
The cause is still unknown at this time, but crews ruled out fermenting hay as a possible cause.
Mike said he was saddened to see such a loss on his farm, which has been in the family for four generations, more than 100 years. But he is happy to be alive.
Mike was out of the hospital on Aug. 17 and is due for another bypass surgery after his cracked ribs heal. He is expected to make a full recovery after his surgeries are complete.
“I can’t thank them enough,” Mike said. “I owe them my life.”