Firefighters Battle Severe Cold Along With Downtown Fire

FALLS CITY – Falls City Fire Chief Vernon Wisdom said windchill temperatures of 2 degrees had a major impact on fighting the fire at Potrillos Grill .

The fire was discovered Wednesday morning when employees opened the Chaney Furniture Store next door to find it full of smoke. Firefighters arrived to see smoke rising from the two-buildings that house the restaurant.

First responders were alerted that residents in three occupied apartments on the same block had evacuated and Wisdom said he went upstairs to check the apartments himself.

Wisdom credited mutual aid from Morrill, Hiawatha, Stella and rural departments for helping to contain the fire to the restaurant buildings, which date back to 1900.

He said the mutual aid was especially needed with the temperature reaching a high of 17 degrees.

He said the severe cold and and spraying water created freezing issues for equipment, including the Falls City aerial truck, which was pumping 1,000 gallons per minute at the top of the building for a duration of five hours.

Wisdom: “It was freezing up, toward the end there. We had to change trucks up with Hiawatha now, because our truck froze up. We’ve got to get it back to the station and get it thawed, in case we get another call.”

Hiawatha’s aerial had early been station at the rear of the building. The city utilities’ bucket truck was deployed at one point to help extinguish a rekindled blaze on the second story.

The incident in the downtown district was literally a “trial by fire” for many on the fire department.

Widsom: “They weren’t ready for it. We’ve got a lot of new guys that we have on there and,  me being a new chief, we’re going to do a lot of training. This is experience right now.”

The buildings at 1516 Stone Street are owned by Luis Salazar. The building to the south is H&R Block, owned by Craig and Lori Martinosky. The Chaney Furniture building is next to the north, followed by the commercial and apartment building owned by Vanji Bruxellas.