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Incident Name:
Date: 3/20/2002
Personnel: Bernes 'Bernie' J. Schutte
Age: 69
Agency/Organization: Palisade Volunteer Fire Department, Palisade NE
Position: firefighter

Summary: Firefighter Schutte and other members of his department were working on the scene of a 4,500-acre wildland/grass fire near Hamlet, NE. Firefighter Schutte collapsed in the presence of other firefighters and medical treatment was begun immediately. Firefighter Schutte was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead upon arrival. The cause of death was listed as an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) due to coronary artery disease. Firefighter Schutte had been a member of the Palisade Volunteer Fire Department for 42 years. He had a history of heart problems.


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Palisade Volunteer Fire Department, 101 S Main, Palisade NE 69040

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  • Nebraska Firefighter Dies at Prairie Fire

    March 22, 2002 | McCook Daily Gazette (no longer online but here's a archive)

    Palisade, Nebraska -- Funeral services for Bernie Schutte of Palisade, who died Wednesday fighting a grass fire near Hamlet, will be Saturday, 11 a.m., at the school in Palisade. Burial will be in the Palisade Cemetery. Schutte was among 100 or so firefighters called to extinguish a grass fire south of Hamlet. Schutte, 69, collapsed on the front lines and was taken to Community Hospital of McCook, where he was pronounced dead.

    Schutte had been a member of Palisade's volunteer fire department for 42 years, and was a former fire chief. He was also president of the Palisade Rural Fire District board of directors and belonged to state firefighters' organizations. Schutte was a former mayor of Palisade and was on the village board for 35 years. He worked for the Great Plains Communications telephone company for 48 years. He is survived by his wife, DeAnna (Phares); one son and one daughter; and six grandchildren.

    March 21, 2002

    Palisade, Nebraska -- A veteran volunteer firefighter collapsed on the front lines of a prairie fire and later was pronounced dead at Community Hospital of McCook. The 69-year-old Palisade man had been a member of the volunteer fire department for 42 years, Fire Chief Richard Miner said. Miner did not release the man's name Thursday morning because all family members had not yet been notified of his death, Miner said. An autopsy was scheduled.

    The man collapsed in front of other crew members Wednesday while battling a fire that burned a swath of prairie land two miles wide and three miles long near Palisade, Miner said. The fallen volunteer was taken by ambulance to a McCook hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the fire chief said.

    "This is the first firefighter we've ever lost in the line of duty. Everybody's pretty numb right now," Miner said. "It's just a bad, bad deal." Miner said the firefighter was a friend to everyone on the tight-knit department. "It's pretty tough on the whole crew when something like this happens," he said. "Everybody is pretty much on automatic pilot right now."

    The death happened as Palisade and five other departments battled a prairie fire that burned about 4,500 acres south of Hamlet, seven miles west of Palisade, near Tri-State By-Products.

    The call came in to the Palisade Fire Station at about 2:15 p.m. Wednesday,. A mutual aid call went out at approximately 3:30 p.m., to Benkelman, Stratton, Wauneta, Trenton, Culbertson and Hayes Center. Approximately 100 firefighters combined efforts to contain the wind-driven blaze.

    Miner said initial reports indicate the fire may have started when sparks from a cutting torch flew into nearby weeds and then spread to hay bales. An outbuilding on that lot was destroyed and two farmhouses were threatened, but firefighters were able to save them. There was also damage to a building containing restored antique cars and mechanic's equipment on the farmsted of Ron and Josie Lytle of rural Palisade.

    When water supplies began to run low, community volunteers showed up with truckloads of water to refill pumper trucks.

    Battling the fire became a wait-and-see game once it reached open prairie. "There was a lot of real rough terrain, and we had to sit and wait for it to come to us," he said. The fire was out at one time until wind gusts of 35 mph rekindled it, Miner said. Wind chills also dropped temperatures below freezing, prompting firefighters to keep water recirculating to keep from freezing. "I don't know how many million gallons of water we pumped," Miner said. Firefighters stayed at the scene of the fire until about 11 p.m. MST, he said.

    "There's a few embers, but everything around is black, so it's pretty well safe," he said.

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Contributors to this article:  RM, Mellie


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