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Sheriff chaplain reflects on the day six died in Pickerel tragedy, the emotions
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Fourteen days after fire swept through a rural Pickerel home, the smell of smoke and aura of tragedy remain in the air.

A small memorial, established in a lawn chair used to stretch the yellow crime scene tape around the area, contains flowers, stuffed animals and a small flag.

The sense of loss is tangible.

During the early morning hours of June 25, a sprawling rental home located on Highway DD, just north of the Highway 55 intersection at Pickerel, sprang into flame.

Killed were Raymond Michiel, 32, and his year-and-a-half-old daughter, Jazmin. Also lost were four others, including three young children. Their names have not been released pending formal identification through DNA by the state crime lab. That may come later this week, according to Langlade County Chief Deputy Dan Bauknecht.

“This is important for closure, for the families and the community,” Bauknecht said. “We hope to have answers very soon.”

Among the first on the scene was Langlade County Sheriff's Department Chaplain Dick Kendall, who began a very long day providing solace and comfort to family members and first responders struck by the enormity of the event.

“I was called under the presumption that there were six people in the home,” Kendall said. “You get to the scene and you see that little playground and a little pink sandal on the porch, undamaged. It strikes you.”

By the time Kendall arrived, Antigo Fire Department Chaplain Don Engebretson was there and gone, traveling aboard a medical unit with two adult female survivors to the hospital for injury assessment and treatment. They included a young woman whose 10 month-old daughter was still on the second floor of the fully-engulfed building, Kendall said.

Throughout the next 10 hours, Kendall remained on the scene, making a point to meet the family members of the suspected victims, who were assembled in a parking area a few hundred feet from the home.

“I counseled and attempted to comfort them as their grief accelerated and as the apparent conclusions were reached that their loved ones had most likely not survived the inferno,” Kendall said. “ Obviously, the family members wanted answers immediately but as they were provided with reports of the developing situation, they soon realized their desire for quick answers would be extended to much later in the day.”

He sketched out a rough diagram on the home based on family recollections, sharing it with the fire-fighting crews who eventually used 43,000 gallons of water to quell the inferno.

As the morning progressed, a nearby pastor offered the use of his church as a refuge for the family watching and waiting.

“They declined. They wanted to stay at the scene,” Kendall said.

Kendall's role extended to on-scene responders, many of whom knew the adults and the tiny children trapped within.

“The chaplain's role is to try and see who needs assistance,” Kendall said. “Those working hard at the scene to carry on with their assigned duties become physically fatigued and may need encouragement to carry on. Bringing them a sandwich or a water bottle and a smile may be just the ticket for that moment.”

As rescue efforts turned painfully to recovery, Kendall remained on scene, assisting as blue body bags, five in all, were brought in and carried out, to be lined up on the yard. Rescue workers positioned their squads to shield the site from passersby, offering an opportunity for grieving and solace. It was a slow process, working through fire-charred rubble and water-soaked debris.

The sixth bag was white, reserved for the smallest victim.

“I remember a responder, a big burly guy, saying ‘I'll take that',” Kendall said. “He cradled that bag in his arms, removing it carefully and laying it gently on the ground, carefully tucking in the corners....That was a very sweet moment, a comforting moment.”

Kendall, along with another first responder, prayed over each bag.

Later in the day, chaplains Kendall and Engebretson joined a diffusing session for the town of Pickerel fire responders to talk things through and to help process the thoughts and feelings of those who had helped for most of the day.

“Family members aren't the only ones who are impacted emotionally,” Kendall said. “Think of those who must enter the building to search for bodies. Imagine being a sheriff official or a member of the fire investigation team and having to complete the necessary paper work that is required afterwards. How can one summarize the details of such a tragedy without being emotionally impacted themselves? People have emotions and they should not be suppressed. Thinking we can ‘tough it out' is dangerous, and the chaplain on-site needs to encourage responders to talk openly about what they are feeling and experiencing.”

Sheriff's Department Chaplain Stephen Pool was involved back in Antigo at the sheriff's department.

“He was very cognizant of the impact of the situation on other officials who were handling calls in the dispatch center and was alert to the thoughts and feelings of those people who are an extension of the many individuals who get caught up in a dynamic and fluid situation such as this tragedy miles away in Pickerel,” Kendall said.

As important as the care that day was what came afterwards.

“Counseling can most certainly be provided on the day of the incident, but the offer for follow-up dialogue in the days and weeks following should be encouraged and spontaneous,” Kendall said. “So, the chaplain often hands out a business card with his or her contact information. Frankly, women are a bit more likely to have discussion. Men may internalize more things without exposing their feelings, so all responders should ‘watch the back' of other responding personnel and help anticipate whether someone should contact a chaplain or other counselor to help process their emotions and feelings.”

Bauknecht commended the work of the law enforcement and fire chaplains, noting it is a fairly new program in this area and has proven its worth many times over.

“Theses things hit very close to home,” the chief deputy said. “The chaplains help us manage a scene. We are trained to work with responders and other law enforcement, but the chaplains help is handling the human aspect.”
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Langlade County Sheriff's Chaplain Dick Kendall at the makeshift memorial located at the scene of the devastating June 25 home fire in Pickerel.

Sheriff chaplain reflects on the day six died in Pickerel tragedy, the emotions
space
Fourteen days after fire swept through a rural Pickerel home, the smell of smoke and aura of tragedy remain in the air.

A small memorial, established in a lawn chair used to stretch the yellow crime scene tape around the area, contains flowers, stuffed animals and a small flag.

The sense of loss is tangible.

During the early morning hours of June 25, a sprawling rental home located on Highway DD, just north of the Highway 55 intersection at Pickerel, sprang into flame.

Killed were Raymond Michiel, 32, and his year-and-a-half-old daughter, Jazmin. Also lost were four others, including three young children. Their names have not been released pending formal identification through DNA by the state crime lab. That may come later this week, according to Langlade County Chief Deputy Dan Bauknecht.

“This is important for closure, for the families and the community,” Bauknecht said. “We hope to have answers very soon.”

Among the first on the scene was Langlade County Sheriff's Department Chaplain Dick Kendall, who began a very long day providing solace and comfort to family members and first responders struck by the enormity of the event.

“I was called under the presumption that there were six people in the home,” Kendall said. “You get to the scene and you see that little playground and a little pink sandal on the porch, undamaged. It strikes you.”

By the time Kendall arrived, Antigo Fire Department Chaplain Don Engebretson was there and gone, traveling aboard a medical unit with two adult female survivors to the hospital for injury assessment and treatment. They included a young woman whose 10 month-old daughter was still on the second floor of the fully-engulfed building, Kendall said.

Throughout the next 10 hours, Kendall remained on the scene, making a point to meet the family members of the suspected victims, who were assembled in a parking area a few hundred feet from the home.

“I counseled and attempted to comfort them as their grief accelerated and as the apparent conclusions were reached that their loved ones had most likely not survived the inferno,” Kendall said. “ Obviously, the family members wanted answers immediately but as they were provided with reports of the developing situation, they soon realized their desire for quick answers would be extended to much later in the day.”

He sketched out a rough diagram on the home based on family recollections, sharing it with the fire-fighting crews who eventually used 43,000 gallons of water to quell the inferno.

As the morning progressed, a nearby pastor offered the use of his church as a refuge for the family watching and waiting.

“They declined. They wanted to stay at the scene,” Kendall said.

Kendall's role extended to on-scene responders, many of whom knew the adults and the tiny children trapped within.

“The chaplain's role is to try and see who needs assistance,” Kendall said. “Those working hard at the scene to carry on with their assigned duties become physically fatigued and may need encouragement to carry on. Bringing them a sandwich or a water bottle and a smile may be just the ticket for that moment.”

As rescue efforts turned painfully to recovery, Kendall remained on scene, assisting as blue body bags, five in all, were brought in and carried out, to be lined up on the yard. Rescue workers positioned their squads to shield the site from passersby, offering an opportunity for grieving and solace. It was a slow process, working through fire-charred rubble and water-soaked debris.

The sixth bag was white, reserved for the smallest victim.

“I remember a responder, a big burly guy, saying ‘I'll take that',” Kendall said. “He cradled that bag in his arms, removing it carefully and laying it gently on the ground, carefully tucking in the corners....That was a very sweet moment, a comforting moment.”

Kendall, along with another first responder, prayed over each bag.

Later in the day, chaplains Kendall and Engebretson joined a diffusing session for the town of Pickerel fire responders to talk things through and to help process the thoughts and feelings of those who had helped for most of the day.

“Family members aren't the only ones who are impacted emotionally,” Kendall said. “Think of those who must enter the building to search for bodies. Imagine being a sheriff official or a member of the fire investigation team and having to complete the necessary paper work that is required afterwards. How can one summarize the details of such a tragedy without being emotionally impacted themselves? People have emotions and they should not be suppressed. Thinking we can ‘tough it out' is dangerous, and the chaplain on-site needs to encourage responders to talk openly about what they are feeling and experiencing.”

Sheriff's Department Chaplain Stephen Pool was involved back in Antigo at the sheriff's department.

“He was very cognizant of the impact of the situation on other officials who were handling calls in the dispatch center and was alert to the thoughts and feelings of those people who are an extension of the many individuals who get caught up in a dynamic and fluid situation such as this tragedy miles away in Pickerel,” Kendall said.

As important as the care that day was what came afterwards.

“Counseling can most certainly be provided on the day of the incident, but the offer for follow-up dialogue in the days and weeks following should be encouraged and spontaneous,” Kendall said. “So, the chaplain often hands out a business card with his or her contact information. Frankly, women are a bit more likely to have discussion. Men may internalize more things without exposing their feelings, so all responders should ‘watch the back' of other responding personnel and help anticipate whether someone should contact a chaplain or other counselor to help process their emotions and feelings.”

Bauknecht commended the work of the law enforcement and fire chaplains, noting it is a fairly new program in this area and has proven its worth many times over.

“Theses things hit very close to home,” the chief deputy said. “The chaplains help us manage a scene. We are trained to work with responders and other law enforcement, but the chaplains help is handling the human aspect.”
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Langlade County Sheriff's Chaplain Dick Kendall at the makeshift memorial located at the scene of the devastating June 25 home fire in Pickerel.
2019
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