Chad Finne talks about his harrowing experience in fighting a fire on June 1 with the West Concord Fire Department at CPI, a company in West Concord that makes absorbent products out of corn stalks and is owned by Matthew Coy. Benefits will be held for him on Saturday, July 27 – breakfast burritos at the West Concord Fire Hall – and Sunday, July 28, pancakes at the West Concord American Legion. Photo submitted
By Ruth Hanson
The moving words come from West Concord's Fire Chief Bob Klapperich.
"Chad (Finne) has been a key member of our department for 18 years, because of his experience and leadership during emergencies," Klapperich said. " We rely on him to lead the initial attack at every fire and to keep everyone focused during every emergency call. He has been instrumental in developing the firefighting tactics we use. As an EMT, he's also a reliable and dedicated ambulance attendant known for staying on task when scenes are chaotic. Chad mentors new members and is respected by everyone he works with."
Former Pastor Todd Walsh of Trinity Lutheran Church saw that kind of potential in Chad Finne and suggested that he become a fireman. That was 18 years ago. He was 23 years old. At that time members of the fire department were required to be EMTs. That rule changed eight years ago in order to get better numbers.
(EMTs had to take 120 hours of training and that number has risen to 170. Every two years they have to be re-certified following an additional 72 hours of training as well as 28 classroom hours.)
"It's difficult to get and keep national certification," Chad Finne said.
"The fire call at CPI (Clean Plus Inc.) on June 1 was especially difficult for the West Concord men and women firefighters because Matt Coy, owner of CPI is one of our own," fire fighter Angie Hoberg said.
To keep the fire form spreading corn bales were moved by a skid loader. Finee was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"I was sitting on a bale when the skid loader backed into me," Finne explained. "I put my feet up to protect myself and my feet and legs got pushed up, folding me in half and crushing my body up against the fork that was sitting there. I heard a lot of bones cracking and my chest getting pushed in. The skid loader pulled away with me dropping to the ground between the bale and the fork lift. I couldn't breathe and was trying to get my legs back away from my face so I could breath. I thought my ribs broke and went into my lungs and organs. I thought this was the end. My first words were, 'Call Mayo One. I'm dying.'"
A group of firefighters were near him in seconds and served as EMTs. They got him on oxygen and a back board and checked him over. He had no breath sounds on the right side of his chest.
"I couldn't breathe and I was in a lot of pain," he said. "They put me in the ambulance and took me to Boe Jeep to wait for Mayo One. I heard on the radio that Mayo One was 18 minutes away. That scared me because it was getting harder and harder to breathe and my body was starting to have muscle spasms."
He knew things were bad by the way the crew was looking at him and saying that the blood pressure monitor was showing bad numbers.
Mayo One arrived and its crew started to check Finne over. They tried to move him and he screamed in pain. They gave him pain meds and loaded him into the helicopter. The flight was short and smooth, with one more pain medication.
In the Emergency Room techs were waiting to help him. They took x-rays and a CT scan. They took him back to the ER and told him he had no broken bones or bleeds, just lots of bruising. He realized that Jill (Holz Robertson, his significant other) and his parents were in the waiting room.
"I told the nurses that I needed to talk to them so I could get a hold of my brother-in-law Bill (Dessner) so he would know that I was good and wasn't going to die," Chad said. (Bill was the driver of the skid loader.) "But when they came in Bill was with them. He came over and grabbed my hand and I said, 'You're not going to quit the department. This was an accident.' Bill has been on the department for over 20 years."
Finne stayed the night in the Intensive Care Unit for observations and to be checked in the morning for head trauma with x-rays for bleeding.
"They monitored my vitals that day and, believe it or not, gave me time to go see my nephew/God son (Sam Finne) who was there for a heart valve replacement," he said. "I was released at three in the afternoon."
He and Jill drove home to West Concord by way of the fire department to see if the guys were still there. He knew they had fought the fire all night. They were cleaning up hoses and trucks.
"We stopped and I got out to show them that I was alive, just in a lot of pain," he said.
That was the first week - a week filled with a lot of pain. - Jill had to help him get out of bed in the morning.
"The pain would bring tears to my eyes," he said. "We would go for walks to help my lungs and muscles, but I could only do it in the mornings. The heat and humidity made it hard for me to breathe. I tired easily and slept a lot."
Bill brought over a spare O2 monitor and they found that his O2 levels were low, reading 84% at night. On Wednesday, June 5, he went to see his doctor at the Owatonna Clinic. They took an X-ray and found that his lung was getting worse. So he went back to the St. Mary's ER, where they did another CT scan.
On June 12 he was back at the Owatonna ER with a rib that popped as he turned getting out of a car.
"That hurt like crazy and made it very hard to breathe," Finne said.
Nine days later his lung was hurting and making a funny noise, so they went back to St. Mary's ER. More fluid was building up around his lung, making it hard for him to breathe when he was lying down. That same day he had his INR* checked in the Owatonna Clinic. It was 2.9, which was good news. But in the ER it was 1.9. It was the difference between checking it with a meter and from his finger.
"So now another mystery," he said. "Why is my INR so off? And having to sleep sitting up to make it easier to breath with the fluid pain."
To Finne's knowledge, he is the first West Concord firefighter to get hurt fighting a fire.
It is a night that none of them will ever forget.
They are grateful to the Dodge Center mututal aid response and took over while the West Concord crew was tending to their friend.
"Our hearts were with Chad," Hoberg said. "It was probably half an hour before we could get regrouped and take over again."
The fire didn't stop burning until one the next afternoon. The fire marshal came over in the morning. The flames kept flaring up until early afternoon.
He continues with doctor visits on a weekly basis. His recovery is progressing but painfully slow.
"He's far from being fine physically yet," Hoberg said. "It's hard for all of us to see such an active, vibrant, enthusiastic person like this."
People have been good to him. That's what's great about a small town. People have brought food and mowed the lawn.
They explained that they are having two benefits for him - breakfast burritos at the West Concord Fire Hall on Saturday, July 27, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and a pancake breakfast at the West Concord American Legion on Sunday, July 28, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
"I miss working," Finne said. "I'm anxious to get back to work. I'm a number one plumber and I miss doing what I'm good at. I work at Wencl Plumbing in Owatonna. I can't be outside these days and I miss that, too."
He has five children and Jill has two.
The days are long, but he keeps his chin up, determination in his eyes.
*In medical terms INR stands for International Normalized Ratio. It measures how long it take for the blood to clot. If the INR is 2 that means it takes the blood twice as long as normal to clot.