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Somerset father, son receive life saving awards

Chris Brunell, Jr. and Chris Brunell, Sr. received recognition for their response to a woman hanging off the St. Croix River High Bridge on Feb. 15. At the Town of Somerset Board meeting on April 4 the Brunells each received the Somerset Fire/Rescue Award for Life Saving, as well as a thank you letter from Sen. Herb Kohl, a certificate of commendation from Gov. Scott Walker and a citation from the Legislature.1 / 2
The Life Saving Award from Somerset Fire/Rescue.2 / 2

As Somerset Fire/Rescue volunteers, Chris Brunell, Sr. and Chris Brunell, Jr. have responded to hundreds of incidents. But a high-risk rescue the father and son duo embarked on Feb. 15 is one they will never forget.

The Brunells received a page shortly after midnight on Feb. 15 saying a woman was hanging off the St. Croix River High Bridge with someone who could no longer hold onto her.

Within minutes the Brunells left their home and headed to the bridge, which was just a mile away. They were dressed in only jeans and sweatshirts, despite the 21-degree temperature.

Somerset Police Officer Josh Hecht was also dispatched to the bridge.

The three men found the female and her friend about halfway out underneath the bridge. The woman was dangling 182 feet in the air with nothing between her and the frozen river.

The only approach to the location was along a narrow grate with a single hand rail for support and the only light available at the time was from the small flashlight held by Hecht.

"Chris (Jr.) kind of spread his weight out on the railroad ties so he wasn't leaning over and he kind of reached over and grabbed her arm. He pulled up on her and somehow he swung her out from underneath the railroad ties and I grabbed her side and we just pulled," Chris, Sr. said.

Other fire/rescue responders brought a stokes basket to the scene, which was used to help transport the woman to safety.

Chris, Sr. said they couldn't sleep after returning home from the adrenaline-filled rescue.

"After we got home we just sat there and talked about it and then wondered how close we were to the edge of falling off there. You don't think about that. You get tunnel vision," Chris, Sr. said.

The Brunells said neither of them thought about their own safety while trying to save the woman.

"All I thought about was getting her on top of the bridge," Chris, Jr. said, thinking back to the incident.

The Brunells said they'd never responded to an incident like this before.

"It's pretty rare. I think this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Chris, Sr. said. "I've been on (the fire/rescue crew) for almost 30 years and I've never experienced anything like it."

The Brunells say they're happy they were able to carry out the memorable rescue together.

"I'll never forget this," Chris, Jr. said.


Somerset Fire/Rescue Chief Travis Belisle said the Brunells deserved recognition for putting their lives in danger to save someone else.

"Because they responded direct they did not use any specialized tools to tie themselves off and knowing what that bridge is like and how high it is up in the air, it was extremely brave and life-risking going out on the bridge with no safeguards," Belisle said. "Volunteers like this are extremely important to the community of Somerset and a huge asset to me as chief."

About 24 people attended the Town of Somerset Board meeting on April 4 to witness the Brunells and Hecht receive awards for life saving. In addition to receiving recognition from their respective departments, the three men received state recognition for their actions.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf was at the board meeting to present the trio with recognition from state representatives.

The Brunells and Hecht each received a thank you letter from Sen. Herb Kohl, a certificate of commendation from Gov. Scott Walker and a citation by the Legislature, on the motion by Harsdorf and State Rep. Erik Severson, thanking them for their efforts.

The Brunells said they didn't expect any recognition for their actions.

"We were just doing our job," Chris, Jr. said.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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