When Millerville, Minn., Fire Chief Rodney Roers got the call Saturday morning for an emergency on Gravel Pit Road NW., he recognized the address as his assistant fire chief’s farm.
When he arrived to the farm a few minutes later, he found what he’d feared most: his longtime colleague, Curt F. Boesl, overcome by toxic fumes atop a grain silo.
Curt’s son, 12-year-old Alex, was also unconscious by the time first responders arrived and began lowering the family members from the silo to start lifesaving procedures.
In an effort to rescue his brother and nephew, Steven T. Boesl went to the top of the silo, where he too inhaled the toxic fumes. Steven, 49, was pronounced dead at the scene and Curt, 47, died Sunday morning.
Alex Boesl was taken by air ambulance to a Twin Cities hospital, where he remained Sunday night. Millerville is about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis in Douglas County.
“We are all going through a tough time,” Roers said. “Please pray for the family and little Alex, but pray for my team, too. We are really, really crushed.”
A GoFundMe site has been set up to support both families.
The fermentation of silage can form a variety of gases, including nitrogen dioxide, which is highly toxic.
Breathing the fumes can cause severe irritation to one’s nose and throat and can lead to inflammation of the lungs. Inhaling a high concentration can cause death in just a few minutes.
As longtime farmers, Curt and his family would have been aware of the dangers of such gases, Roers said.
“We don’t know what set off the tragic chain of events,” Roers said. “You just can’t understand it, you can’t point fingers. Hopefully someday we’ll understand.”
The brothers served on the Fire Department for more than 20 years each. Steve was retired from the work, but Curt was in his ninth year as assistant chief.
The two farmed together, Roers said, and were “amazing partners” who had a “love for their land and livestock.”
As dairy farmers, they hardly had time to rest, and yet both prioritized community involvement, Roers said. Curt was a trustee at a local church; Steve was on the township board. Together, the brothers also led the effort to erect a new fire hall in Millerville several years ago.
“They were always so busy, but they found time for everyone else,” he said.
Steve and Curt were both fathers of five. Though it’s still early to think about just how the community and department will honor the brothers, Roers said he wants to see another Boesl join the ranks.
“My greatest hope is that someday, some of those children will join as firefighters and live up to the great legacy that their fathers gave us,” he said.
Roers said his family just this weekend received the Boesls’ Christmas card, which wished their loved ones a “happy and healthy 2020.”
“That brought tears to our eyes,” Roers said, adding that he is encouraging the firefighters to keep talking about their grief, including at a debriefing session Monday.
“You try to be stoic, but something like this you just can’t contain,” he said. “It’s just too hard when you’re doing CPR on your close friend.”
Later, Roers corrected himself: Your fellow firefighters aren’t just your friends, he said, they’re family.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.