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Pittsville Fire Department acquires new gas detector in response to death of former farmer and friend of department, Pete Petersen. Tork Mason, Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune

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PITTSVILLE - For 25 years, when Fire Chief Jerry Minor needed a place for firefighters and emergency medical service workers to train, one person's name always came to his mind first. 

Peter Petersen wasn't a firefighter or a paramedic, but the man who grew up on a farm on Wood County A and State 73 played an important role for the Pittsville Fire Department. If Minor needed a grain bin filled with corn to practice rescues, Petersen would supply it. He supplied anything the fire chief requested to make sure the local first responders were trained on agricultural emergencies.

"Pete was as much a part of this department as any member who has ever been here," Minor said. 

Sal Petersen was married to the man for 33 years and said he was all about safety and about serving others, and that's why he always opened his farm for practice drills.

"Pete was the busiest man you could imagine, but he'd always take time from his busy day to help anyone that was in need," she said.

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Petersen died in his own farming accident on Sept. 20, 2018, a death that illustrated one of many dangers in agricultural work. The 60-year-old farmer climbed inside a silo chute, became exposed to noxious gas and fell more than 40 feet.

He was so appreciated for his generosity that at his funeral, people stood in line for four hours to pay their respects, Sal Petersen said.

She wanted to continue her husband's legacy, so about a month after the tragic accident she told Minor that he could call on her anytime he needed to train. As a result, the department will again conduct training at the farm in October.

The family also donated money to help prevent another such tragedy. The fire chief, working with the National Farm Medicine Center at Marshfield Clinic, found a company that could make a meter that would detect silo gas (nitrogen dioxide) and hydrogen sulfide, which is part of a deadly mix of gases in manure.  Pittsville officials also wanted the meter to detect low levels of oxygen and high flammability levels. Minor said he knows of no other meters existing that measure the combination of four gases. 

Minor bought the meter, developed by Industrial Scientific Corp. of Pittsburgh, with money donated by the Petersen family as well as Burt and Shirley Iverson, long-time community members. The device cost about $3,000.

The meter will be available for any fire department or emergency medical service agency in the Pittsville area and to any agency in the department's mutual aid group, Minor said. The department also will make it available to farms with guidance from emergency personnel. 

Sal Petersen said her husband would be honored the Pittsville Fire Department bought the meter as a way to remember him and the kind of person he was.

Sal and Peter Petersen had two daughters and a son, all adults now, who helped build the farm and have helped to keep it going during the past year. The family sold their cows shortly after his death, but they have rented out the crop land to keep the business active until they are ready to run the farm themselves, Sal Petersen said.

It's been a difficult year, but she said she feels blessed to have her three children and three grandchildren helping her get through it.  

Peter Petersen didn't talk much about or want to take credit for the help he gave the Pittsville Fire Department, Sal Petersen said. The couple just felt they were indebted to the department members who train so hard and frequently so the community can be confident they will know how to respond to a range of emergencies.

"I have the highest praises for Jerry Minor and the Pittsville EMT and Fire Department," Sal Petersen said. "What they do on a daily basis is incredible."

The family also is proud that its donation went toward buying the meter. Sal Petersen said she didn't want another family to go through the heartache and devastation that her family has gone through during the past year.

"Pete was the most compassionate, selfless man, and would be proud to make an impact," she said.

Contact a reporter

Karen Madden is breaking news reporter in Central Wisconsin. You can reach her at 715-345-2245 on email at kmadden@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @KMadden715, Instagram at @kmadden715 or Facebook at www.facebook.com/karen.madden.33

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