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Thread: Illinois Hotshot Crew Member Killed In The Line Of Duty

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    Illinois Hotshot Crew Member Killed In The Line Of Duty

    Illinois Hotshot Crew Member Killed In The Line Of Duty

    Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

    (Wilmington) April 25, 2004 -- One firefighter was killed and another severely injured in an accident that occurred while the Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew was en route to their home base after being released from a fire assignment in Florida. The Midewin Hotshots, based in Wilmington, Illinois had been assigned to the East Fork Fire on the Apalachicola National Forest.

    The accident occurred late Friday night, April 23, in West Memphis, Arkansas. Al Toepke, 30, was killed, and Vance Hazelton, 30, was injured and was in serious condition in Memphis, Tennessee. Both men were from Winona, Minnesota, and were employed by the U.S. Forest Service for the Midewin Hotshots based on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois.

    The cause of the accident is under investigation by the local authorities and the U.S. Forest Service.

    Funeral services for Al Toepke were scheduled for 1:00 p.m., Friday, April 30, at Peace Church in New Salem, North Dakota. A memorial service was scheduled for 1:00 p.m., Saturday, May 8, in Winona, Minnesota.

    The Toepke family has requested that contributions in Al

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    Remembered for love of outdoors

    By Kirsten Singleton of the Winona Daily News


    There's comfort in knowing that her brothers Al and Steve are together, Linda Toepke said.

    Al Toepke, 30, the son of David and Sharon Toepke of Winona, died early Saturday after being hit while walking across the interstate in West Memphis, Ark.

    His brother, Steve, died in June 1997 in a canoeing accident in Alaska.

    "It's pretty tough," said Linda Toepke, 23. "But the one thing that I think brings a lot of peace to us is that those two boys are together. They're together, and they're having a good time wherever they are."

    Al Toepke and his fellow Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew firefighters were returning to their home base in Illinois on Friday after a fire assignment in Florida's Apalachicola National Forest.

    Among the crew is Toepke's long-time friend Vance Hazelton. Both men graduated from Winona Senior High School in 1992.

    The group stopped in Arkansas to rest for the evening. Toepke and Hazelton were walking across the interstate when they were struck by a semi-truck.

    Hazelton survived the accident and is being treated for his injuries in Tennessee, said Sharon Toepke, whose daughter Beth is Hazelton's girlfriend.

    She added that Hazelton is expected to be moved to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., within a few weeks, and he hopes to return to firefighting by the end of the season.

    Toepke's funeral is being held today in New Salem, N.D., near where he will be buried in the family plot, next to his brother.

    The family thanks the Winona community, especially the congregation at First Congregational Church, for being supportive. A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the church, 161 W. Broadway.

    His mother notes that Toepke was a tissue donor and, as a result, will be able to help at least 75 people.

    The Toepke family remembered Al this week as an avid outdoorsman who loved to make people laugh.

    "He could sit down with anyone and talk about anything they were interested in," Linda Toepke said.

    "He's had so many heart-to-hearts with people that you would never expect, like my sister's and my friends from college," she said. "He just loved to get to know people and get to know what they were like and share stories and memories."

    Toepke met Stacey Nelson while both were attending Winona State University. They moved to Bozeman, Mont., three years ago and were planning a September wedding.

    Moving out West was Al's dream, his family says.

    "He loved to be in the outdoors," Linda Toepke said. "It was very important to him to be out hiking and biking and snowboarding and hunting with his family and fishing and fly fishing."

    Sharon Toepke said her son was protective of the natural environment.

    "When he would go to a campsite, it was always cleaner when he left," she said. "He never left a mess, and if somebody else did, he cleaned it up."

    Linda Toepke says one of her favorite memories of Al is a ski trip the three siblings took with their significant others last December.

    "It just happened to be the best powder of the season," she said.

    The group went tubing, built a bonfire.

    "It was just good to be with my brother and my sister and the people that they loved so much

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    Toepke, Alan David

    Age: 30
    Cause of Death: Struck By/Contact with Object
    Rank: Firefighter
    Nature of Death: Internal Trauma
    Status: Career
    Emergency Duty: No

    Incident Date: 04/24/2004
    Duty Type: Other
    Incident Time:
    Activity Type: Other
    Death Date: 04/24/2004
    Fixed Prop. Use: Street/Road

    Fire Dept. Info:
    Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew, USFS
    Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
    30239 S. State Route 53
    Wilmington , Illinois 60481
    Chief: Superintendent Lito Contreras

    Initial Summary:
    Firefighter Toepke and his fellow Midewin Interagency Hotshot Crew firefighters were returning to their home base in Illinois after a fire assignment in Florida's Apalachicola National Forest. The group stopped in Arkansas to rest for the evening. Toepke and Firefighter Hazelton, also seriously injured in the incident, were walking across the interstate when a semi-truck struck them.

    Memorial Fund Info:
    The Toepke family has requested that contributions in Al's memory be made to either of two organizations: Dakota Pheasants Forever, Attn: Dave Roberts, 623 North 13th St., Bismarck, ND 58501 (www.dakotapf.com) or YMCA Camp Olson to support cabin restoration or camper scholarships as it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2004 (4160 Little Big Boy Road NE, Longville, MN 56655).



    http://www.usfa.fema.gov/application...eath_year=2004

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