Nearly 100 firefighters battled the blaze that destroyed the Grand Rapids VFW Post 1720 and the Lakeview Behavioral Health building.
A 9-1-1 call was received on Saturday, March 7 at 8:57 p.m., reporting smoke in the basement of a business in the 120 block of NW Third Street. A police officer, sheriff’s deputy and fire officer arrived within two minutes of the call. Other firefighters with apparatus were on scene within five minutes.
The Grand Rapids Fire Department was assisted by fire departments as far away as Aitkin and Hibbing as well as from Hill City, Cohasset, Trout Lake, Coleraine, Deer River, and Nashwauk. Crews were still on scene into Sunday afternoon.
The fire that started in Lakeview and spread quickly to the VFW. According to Grand Rapids Fire Chief Travis Cole, the two businesses are considered a total loss. A third, Wells Fargo Bank, received smoke and minor water damage.
“This was a difficult fire to fight because of the age of the buildings,” said Chief Cole. “We are very grateful that there were no injuries and for the help we received from surrounding fire departments.”
At the center of the city’s historic downtown, the buildings are estimated to be approximately 100 years old.
VFW Post 1720 Commander Hugh Quinn said the VFW’s roof collapsed and the upstairs was completely destroyed as more than 500,000 gallons of water was pumped onto the buildings between Saturday night and Sunday. According to the police report, the bartender at the VFW called 911 stating smoke was coming from the neighboring building through a hole between the walls. At that time the VFW was cleared of staff and patrons.
Quinn said firefighters were able to recover as much memorabilia as they could from the building, including items encased in the glass cases on the east wall and World War II “Eisenhower,” jackets worn by veterans all over the world that were stored upstairs.
“We saved a good portion of our memorabilia,” Quinn told the Herald-Review.
Gulf War Combat Veteran and Cohasset Firefighter Joel Keilvang is credited for “realizing in the wee hours of Sunday morning that there was so much memorabilia in there and he got together with the [fire] chief and made a plan,” said Quinn who explained that the artifacts are being stored at the police department for the time being.
Sadly, a safe at the VFW containing club documents and three ceremonial rifles burned. However, three rifles that were housed in the display cases were saved.
“It’s sad that our post home is burnt down but we’re excited for the future,” added Quinn. “We have some ideas and dreams.”
The VFW Post 1720 meeting was held Tuesday evening with discussion on plans to move forward. The post currently has 302 members on its roster.
Lakeview has posted on Facebook, “We would like to thank everyone who has reached out with concerns. A big thanks to the fire department. We are so thankful no one was in the building.”
Lakeview has a second office location in Grand Rapids on Pokegama Avenue South where they plan to continue to see clients.
During Monday’s meeting of the Grand Rapids City Council, Mayor Dale “Spud” Adams and councilors commended the GRFD and other departments for their work containing the fire.
“It shows what the community can do; what people can do when needed,” said Adams. “Thank you to all who came over, brought water. It says a lot about volunteerism - not just our fire department but all of the others who helped too.”
Adams described the GRFD as “exemplary.”
“They give up a lot of their time in the name of service,” he added.
On Monday afternoon, the GRFD was dispatched back to the area after a small amount of smoke was found smouldering under the fire damaged area. The Grand Rapids Fire Department and the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office are investigating the cause of the fire. A crew from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was on the scene Tuesday afternoon.
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