MUSCATINE, Iowa – Six members of the 11-person shift that arrived to battle a late-night house fire on a cool September night remain on active duty with the Muscatine Fire Department. Four have retired or moved on. One remains the only Muscatine firefighter to die in the line of duty.
A year and three days after 343 firefighters perished in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Muscatine lost one of its own while battling a house fire. Firefighter Michael Kruse was 53-years-old and a 27-year veteran of the Muscatine Fire Department when he lost his life on the night of September 14, 2002.
Kruse will be remembered during a special service Wednesday (Sept. 14) with the laying of a wreath, placing of structural firefighting gear, and a moment of silence at the Firefighters Memorial commemorating the 20th anniversary of his death.
Kruse remains the only Muscatine firefighter to die in the line of duty, the only Iowa firefighter to lose their life while on duty in 2002 and the 131st in the state of Iowa since record keeping began in 1890.
Jerry Ewers, now the Muscatine Fire Chief, fondly remembers meeting Kruse for the first time as part of his team at Station 2, and sadly remembers the night Kruse lost his life.
“I remember that night very well,” Ewers said.
Muscatine Fire Department’s Green Shift responded to a structure fire at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2002, finding a wooden three-story multi-family home at the intersection of Orange and East 6th streets engulfed in flames. Kruse was one of two firefighters who were working on the structure's roof when Kruse fell through and into the structure below.
When Ewers arrived at the scene he issued an all-call to bring in other shifts and relieve Green Shift in containing the fire.
“The tragedy suffered by Green Shift was felt by all those who came to the scene,” Ewers said. “But it was best to relieve that shift and allow them to grieve. We still had a job to do but it was a very emotional night.”
Kruse’s dedication to job safety and protecting Muscatine residents is a lesson that can be taught to the firefighters of today and those of the future.
His sacrifice and loss of life while on active duty, the emotional toll it took on his family, co-workers, and Muscatine residents, and the hope that Muscatine will never again experience a tragedy such as are all part of the message presented verbally or in the silent thoughts of those attending during each memorial service.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman also knew Kruse and carried his picture with him when he completed the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Stair Climb. The significance that two tragedies come so close together for Muscatine Firefighters is not lost on Hartman.
“It is sad but also offers you an opportunity to reflect on the job, and the sacrifices they made,” Hartman said. “I look at it as a chance to kind of rededicate yourself. Mike passed in 2002 and we don’t have a lot of people on staff who remember him.”
Ewers first met Kruse in the 1990’s as a newly appointed Fire Lieutenant assigned to Station 2. Kruse was a member of Ewers’ crew along with then firefighter June Anne Gaeta.
Ewers admits that as a very young, very green fire lieutenant he was book smart but lacked the fire ground command and exposure to structure fires.
“Mike was a true teacher and mentor to me,” Ewers said. “His experience in fighting real fires, his expertise with the equipment, and his knowledge of the city helped this young lieutenant grow.”
Kruse joined the department in 1975 and was one of the first members to obtain his fire science degree at MCC.
“He was a true firefighter dedicated to protecting property and saving lives,” Ewers said. “He was very detail oriented, liked everything clean and in its place, and took his job very seriously.”
One thing about Hartman’s relationship with Kruse is that Hartman knows that Kruse would expect him to maintain his training and safety, two things that were very important to Kruse.
“That’s one of things I reflect on at this time of year,” Hartman said. “What can I do to train a little bit more, to be a little bit safer, or to help our staff train harder and be safer.”
Hartman said you can either focus on the negatives at this time of year or you can look for ways to become better.