Heroes got a helping hand

GIVEN FREELY — Seen are some of the many donations made by individuals and businesses from around the area to help firefighters in Northrop as they worked to contain the blaze at the grain elevator in Northrop over New Year’s weekend. (Photo courtesy Minnesota Lake Fire Chief Jack Volz)

Forget the comic books and movies. Real-life heroes can be seen around us, if we only stop and look.

The grain elevator fire in Northrop over the New Year’s weekend will not be easily forgotten. Emergency workers were out in force, coming from all over southern Minnesota to help contain the blaze that ignited around 5 a.m., following an explosion that occurred the day before.

Volunteer firefighters, demolition crews and other emergency crews worked around the clock in extremely cold conditions for days on end to contain the blaze, and their heroics will stand the test of time.

But what will also be remembered is the organization and donations from an unknown number of people and businesses who all answered the call to help. The town of Northrop, as well as surrounding communities, came together in a show of solidarity, donating items such as hand warmers, socks, Chapstick, mittens, food, drinks and much more to keep workers going.

The outpouring of support had to be organized, and that is where local residents stepped up to help.

Tom and Heidi Koeritz live in Northrop, and made the decision to open up their home for people to drop off donations, in order to keep the affected area clear of unnecessary traffic.

“We just needed a central location in Northrop so we didn’t have a bunch of cars driving up to the Northrop Bar,” Heidi said. “I’m one of the administrators of the church’s [St. James Lutheran in Northrop] Facebook page, so I just gave our address that people could drop off stuff and that post was shared over 235 times; it was unbelievable.”

“We kept a list of 40 different names and businesses that just came to our house, but some had come prior, and then the next day when things had opened up a little more we had people come in the north end of town, and I bet all totaled that list had to be pushing 100, and some were repeats.”

Koeritz was surprised by some the useful items, some of which she says she never would have thought of. She also was impressed by the number of communities that helped from a distance.

“There were items that I didn’t think of that people dropped off, like boot warmers,” she said. “The guys would put their gloves on them too, because the gloves were wet. I’m sure we cleared Fairmont out of the hand warmers, and there were socks that came in from all over from places like Ace Hardware in St. James.

“Then there was a bunch of stuff that came in from Madelia, which was heartwarming. We had one car where a little boy got out with a laundry basket full of stuff and came to the door saying he wanted to help the firefighters.”

Koeritz said the items were then sent to the scale office and Old Northrop Bar, which owner Montana Thiesse had shut down in order to use it as a warming place, providing meals and a place for the emergency workers to warm up.

“I witnessed a guy come in and he couldn’t get his own gloves off because they were frozen,” she said. “They had to literally chip at his pants which he couldn’t get off because they were frozen.”

Thiesse said he made the decision to close the Bar as soon as the fire started, and it was a simple decision, despite the amount of business a bar typically sees over the New Year’s holiday.

“The firefighters and Beemer companies and the volunteers needed a place to stay warm,” he said. “I’m a strong believer in community, and I would think they would all do it if something like that happened to me. To me it’s common sense.

“We had so many free will donations with food and beverages and Chapstick and gloves, and other stuff that I didn’t want people walking in, grabbing stuff and walking out. It wasn’t even a second thought. There was an outrageous amount of stuff donated and it was just really good support by the community.”

Thiesse was impressed with all the firefighters, volunteers, Beemer Companies crew, as well as the cleanup efforts of his own workers from Montana’s Tree Service Plus.

“They were just phenomenal; they were awesome,” he stated.

While it would be difficult to list all the people and businesses that helped out, it is clear there was no shortage of heroes helping heroes as communities pulled together in a time of crisis.


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