Firefighters reeling from tragic death of assistant chief

Waubeka department stunned by loss of longtime official known as a family man

Bruce Koehler
Ozaukee Press Staff

Bruce Koehler’s last act as Waubeka’s assistant fire chief was, fittingly, helping out another fire department.

The 53-year-old Waubeka resident was killed shortly after leaving a fish fry fundraiser for the Fillmore Fire Department when the motorcycle he was driving struck a deer just after 8 p.m. on Friday on Highway H east of Highway M in the Town of Farmington.   

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release that it was notified by a passerby that a man was located lying in the roadway next to a motorcycle and was unconscious and bleeding from the head.

Alcohol and speed were not factors in the crash, the sheriff’s department said. Koehler was not wearing a helmet.

Some of the same Fillmore firefighters he had just come from supporting responded to the scene, along with Newburg Rescue, Washington County Sheriff’s deputies and West Bend Fire Department Paramedics were requested. He was transported by Flight for Life to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, where he died.

Waubeka Fire Chief Jason Caswell said Koehler had been a member of the department for 35 years and was dedicated to firefighting and to his family.

“He was the kind of guy who was always ready  to help. It didn’t matter what it was,” he said. “The department is heartbroken for his family. Family came first for him.”

Besides his tenure with the Waubeka Fire Department, Koehler also was a  hazardous material team leader, a rescue boat crew member for Ozaukee County Emergency Management, president of MABAS Division 119, a member of the Southeast Wisconsin Incident Management Team, an advisor for the Random Lake Area District Explorers Program, a member of the Ozaukee County and the Wisconsin State Fire Chief’s Associations and the Badger Firefighters Association.

Caswell said firefighters gathered Sunday and altered plans for their regular Tuesday practice night to talk about Koehler’s death.

He said the fire department also will be open after Koehler’s funeral at 2 p.m. on Saturday at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fredonia.

“Everybody is still in a state of shock and disbelief,” Caswell said. “It will probably be a little harder on Saturday at the funeral. Once we get past that point, the healing process will begin.

“His loss will create a big void not only in our fire department but his family foremost. It will take some time.”

Responding to a fatal accident is always tough, even for the most experience firefighter. But it’s especially difficult when it involves a friend, Caswell said.

“It’s a huge difference,” he said. “But in a small community you run into that sometimes. You’re helping your friends and neighbors and knowing a lot of people in the community, that makes it tougher.

“But you have to put that aside and work through it and call back to your training and do your best.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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