Crews from 50 departments battle fire at recycling facility: ‘Neighbors helping neighbors’

TOWN OF NORWAY --  Firefighters on Monday morning, July 2 continued to battle a massive fire at a recycling facility in western Racine County. The blaze broke out Sunday, July 1 at John's Disposal in the Town of Norway. At the height of the fire, 50 crews from southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois were on scene to battle the blaze.

The fire forced the closure of U.S. 45 between Six Mile and Seven Mile Roads. The lanes were blocked shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday. Fighting this fire was difficult due to the wind, the lack of hydrants in the area and the flammable materials at the facility. Around 9 p.m. Sunday, a pile of tires re-ignited, and smoke continued to pour out of the building.

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

FOX6 News spoke with a former employee, who said the fire started outside and spread to a pile of tires, and then into one of the buildings where cardboard and other recycled materials are located. It then came out the other side of the building and started a trailer on fire.

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

It didn't take long for the Wind Lake Fire Department to call for backup. First from its surrounding neighbors -- and then from cities across the state line.

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

"We had 18 engines, six ladders, 22 tankers and seven ambulances with a lot of chief officers," said Kevin Bierce, president of MABAS Wisconsin.

Signed into law in 2006, the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, known was MABAS, is used to deploy fire, rescue and medical services to communities dealing with large emergency situations.

"It's really a way to get quick help. It's neighbors helping neighbors," said Bierce.

The 750 member fire departments agree to train the same way and use the same language. When they were called into action Sunday, Bierce said the 50 crews working this recycling center fire worked together seamlessly.

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

"We don't know each other, but we play well together," said Bierce.

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

MABAS also keeps firefighters from becoming fatigued. Commanders can call for backup hours in advance.

"We are already dialing those people, so they are ready to go. As you've seen here, they switch out -- six will leave, six will come in -- so it's really a great allocation of resources," said Bierce.

In this case, MABAS allowed those rotating firefighters to stay on the scene for hours until the fire was out and the scene was deemed safe.

"It is neighbors helping neighbors. We know the next time we have an incident in our community, they will be there to help us," said Bierce.

Large fire at Johns Disposal in Town of Norway

Bierces says MABAS worked well at this fire, but there are always things to improve on. The agencies that worked this fire will review the incident at a state conference in August.