By: Joanne M. Haas/DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
Arcadia is flooding. Bring your boat. Come now! That was the gist of the 3 a.m. calls on Thursday, July 20.
Not the exact quote, but enough to kick Wardens Meghan Jensen, Bob Kneeland, Robert Jumbeck and Robin Barnhardt from restful rapid eye movement to raring rapid response movement.
After torrential rains and severe weather raged overnight through parts of Wisconsin, the Trempealeau River and Turton Creek busted over their banks to overwhelm the streets of Trempealeau County's nearly 3,000-strong Arcadia. The National Weather Service says the area was swamped by several inches of rain.
Warden Meghan Jensen, who has been serving the county since September 2016, was likely the first warden Trempealeau County officials called. They knew she had a boat - a shallow boat. "I told them Bob Kneeland has a boat, too."
Kneeland, serving northern Trempealeau County and Jackson County since January of this year, got the call and wasted no time driving to get his boat and get to the command post where Lt. Robin Barnhardt was on scene, coordinating emergency response assignments using DNR boats. Warden Robert Jumbeck was there, too, ready to respond with his airboat.
Lt. Robin made the command decision the home rescue was best handled with a shallow boat that Warden Meghan brought. So, he deployed Wardens Meghan and Bob together with Osseo Fire Department firefighter Derek Olson to rescue the five from a home.
"You don't always think about driving a boat down a city street," Warden Meghan said. But that's what she did as the three rescuers headed to the home.
The home was surrounded by rising water. "The basement had flooded and there was water on the first floor," Warden Bob said. The occupants were waiting for their rescuers on the front porch.
"I had the hip waders," Warden Meghan said. So, she jumped out and guided the boat closer. "I was able to walk the boat to the front porch area. The water was probably up to my knees at that point."
Warden Bob says the group on the porch had a plan of action. "They asked us to take two of the children and the dog first."
So be it. They carefully guided two children and the dog off the porch and into the boat. Next was to get the life jackets on, and secure all 2- and 4-legged passengers for transport to the fire department headquarters where they were cared for by other hard-working responders.
The wardens and Olson jumped back in the boat, for an immediate trip back to the house for the rest of the porch crew: two adults and a third child.
"They were calm but very thankful," Warden Meghan said, adding the children were likely in their teen years.
Warden Bob agreed. "They were very appreciative."
This was the first water rescue for both wardens. "It is one of those skills to help people," Warden Bob said. "We have the equipment and we are able to respond."
For Warden Meghan, being a duck hunter also helped.
"I have years of experience operating shallow boats," she said. "That skill set really helped me during this flood event. And, it was really nice that we have the boat resources to help."
Thursday was Warden Bob's day off. But, like Warden Meghan, he was ready to do it all over. "Helping people on my day off is more important than mowing my lawn!"
No arguments on that point!
(On Friday, the National Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Watch for Arcadia and other Wisconsin areas. And, Gov. Scott Walker toured Arcadia to view the flood damage and talk with area citizens and business operators.)
If you have information regarding natural resource violations, you may confidentially report by calling or texting: VIOLATION HOTLINE: 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained staff relay report information to conservation wardens.