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Fire officials analyze response to Echo Lake Foods eight-alarm fire

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BURLINGTON (WITI) -- With the fire out at Echo Lake Foods in Burlington, three fire officials met Tuesday, February 5th to evaluate the effectiveness of their response to the fire. With over 80 departments having responded, there was a lot to go over. However, officials say they were able to use lessons learned from another major fire.

Wauwatosa Deputy Fire Chief and MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) Coordinator William Rice met with fire chiefs from Racine and Menomonee Falls on Tuesday. They were among the officials in the command center as crews battled the eight-alarm fire at the Echo Lake Foods plant.

"The biggest thing out there was safety. It was cold, we had the cold issues, we have a building that's structurally compromised, so we have to take a look at the building and issue that there are possible collapse issues with the buildings," Rice said.

The various departments were paged through MABAS. Through this system, each community already knows which crews will respond to an incident, and what they'll bring. 

However, it's not a perfect system, and at the chiefs meeting Tuesday, officials said they applied in Burlington lessons learned from the 2009 fire at the Patrick Cudahy plant.

"We came up short on chiefs. There were too many responsibilities that were needed - safety, divisions, staging, logistics that we needed chiefs for," Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen said.

Now, officials aim to have one chief for every five to seven firefighters.

"Once you get beyond the span of control of five to seven people at an emergency scene like that, you tend to start missing things because there's so much information coming at you so quickly," Menomonee Falls Fire Chief Jeff Hevey said.

The assisting chiefs also monitor concerns like water supply and air quality, making it easier for the lead officials to focus on how they'll fight that particular fire.

Officials emphasized this was a very preliminary meeting just to look at the response as it relates to the MABAS system. However, so far, they say they're very happy with the response, which called for crews from as far as Dane County and Northern Illinois.

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