Muscatine firefighters pause to remember

Six members of the 11-person shift that arrived to battle a late night house fire on a cool September night remain on active duty with the Muscatine Fire Department. Four have retired or moved on. One remains the only Muscatine firefighter to die in the line of duty.

A year and three days after 343 firefighters perished in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Muscatine lost one of its own while battling a house fire. Firefighter Michael Kruse was 53-years-old and a 27-year veteran of the Muscatine Fire Department when he lost his life on the night of September 14, 2002.

Kruse was remembered during a special service Tuesday (Sept. 14) with the laying of a wreath and a moment of silence at the Firefighters Memorial commemorating the 19th anniversary of his death.

Kruse remains the only Muscatine firefighter to die in the line of duty, the only Iowa firefighter to lose their life while on duty in 2002 and the 131st in the state of Iowa since record keeping began in 1890.

Jerry Ewers, now the Muscatine Fie Chief, fondly remembers meeting Kruse for the first time as part of his team at Station 2, and sadly remembers the night Kruse lost his life.

“I remember that night very well,” Ewers said.

Muscatine Fire Department’s Green Shift responded to a structure fire at 10:30 p.m. on that Saturday night (Sept. 14, 2002) finding a wooden three-story multi-family home at the intersection of Orange and East 6th streets engulfed in flames. Kruse was one of two firefighters who were working on the structure’s roof when Kruse fell through and into the structure below.

When Ewers arrived at the scene he issued an all-call to bring in other shifts and relieve Green Shift in containing the fire.

“The tragedy suffered by Green Shift was felt by all those who came to the scene,” Ewers said. “But it was best to relieve that shift and allow them to grieve. We still had a job to do but it was a very emotional night.”

Kruse’s dedication to job safety and protecting Muscatine residents is a lesson that can be taught to the firefighters of today and those of the future.

“Sometime tomorrow I ask that you take a moment and reflect on something that you can do to make your role as an emergency responder just a little bit more safe,” Mike Hartman, Assistant Fire Chief, said to fire department staff on Monday. “Those who knew Mike would agree that he believed in safety, and he would appreciate you finding a less risky way of doing what you have to do to protect the public.”

His sacrifice and loss of life while on active duty, the emotional toll it took on his family, co-workers, and Muscatine residents, and the hope that Muscatine will never experience a tragedy such as this ever again are all part of the message presented verbally or in the silent thoughts of those attending during each memorial service.

“Mike was one of the most safety conscious firefighter’s on the department,” Ewers said during a speech in 2012 commemorating the 10th anniversary of Kruse’s death. “Mike always looked out for other firefighters to make sure they were doing the job safely and that they had their full protective equipment on at all times.”

Hartman also knew Kruse and carried his picture with him when he completed the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Stair Climb. The significance that two tragedies come so close together for Muscatine Firefighters is not lost on Hartman.

“It is sad but also offers you an opportunity to reflect on the job, and the sacrifices they made,” Hartman said. “I look at it as a chance to kind of rededicate yourself. Mike passed in 2002 and we don’t have a lot of people on staff who remember him.”

Ewers first met Kruse in the 1990’s as a newly appointed Fire Lieutenant assigned to Station 2. Kruse and firefighter June Anne Gaeta were his crew.

Ewers admits that as a very young, very green fire lieutenant he was book smart but lacked the fire ground command and exposure to structure fires.

“Mike was a true teacher and mentor to me,” Ewers said. “His experience in fighting real fires, his expertise with the equipment, and his knowledge of the city helped this young lieutenant grow.”

Kruse joined the department in 1975 and was one of the first members to obtain his fire science degree at MCC.

“He was a true firefighter dedicated to protecting property and saving lives,” Ewers said. “He was very detail oriented, liked everything clean and in its place, and took his job very seriously.”

One thing about Hartman’s relationship with Kruse is that Hartman knows that Kruse would expect him to maintain his training and safety, two things that were very important to Kruse.

“That’s one of things I reflect on at this time of year,” Hartman said. “What can I do to train a little bit more, to be a little bit safer, or to help our staff train harder and be safer.”

Hartman said you can either focus on the negatives at this time of year or you can look for ways to become better.

“Everybody is going to be sad at the loss of life,” Hartman said. “You can be sad and focus on the negative part. Or you can be sad and ask what would Mike want. Those of us, especially those who worked with Mike, would ask that question.”

Everybody dealt with Kruse’s death in a different way. Many on staff just did not talk about the event or what Kruse meant to the department. A gap started to develop as staff left or retired and were replaced his young new hires. Hartman noted that after a while, one of the newer firefighters asked what you can tell me about the event and about Mike. Hartman and others realized that they had not done a good job of that, and sat down to put together a presentation to give to each shift. The two-hour presentation on the event, what went wrong, what could be done better, and what Mike was all about is now given at each new hire academy.

“You cannot undo what happened but you can use what happened and get as much positive out of it as you can,” Hartman said. “I think sharing this information with the department and the new hires helps to not only keep Mike’s memory alive but it is the right thing to do and brings them in to culture.”

Ewers spoke of the difference between commemoration and celebration during his 2012 speech. Commemorating an event, he said, is done to honor the memory of that event. Celebration is a time or rejoicing, a time to feel good about something that has happened.

“Commemorations often remind us of what we have lost,” Ewers said. “Commemorations are important, not because of the words spoken, but because of honor, courage, and sacrifice that were displayed during the time of the event itself.

“We all know in our hearts that firefighting is a dangerous profession,” Ewers said. “Mike knew this when he was hired in 1975. Not every firefighter who responds to the sound of an alarm is guaranteed a safe return to quarters. Some will be mentally scarred for life with what we see and encounter at emergency scenes, some will be seriously injured, and some will pay the ultimate price.

“So it was with Mike Kruse on September 14, 2002 while battling a house fire at 6th and Orange just a few blocks from here,” Ewers said. “We have gathered here to commemorate that tragic event that took one of our own and left behind a painful gap in our ranks. We will continue to do this as long as the Muscatine Fire Department is in existence.”

Muscatine’s Firefighters Memorial is located at the intersection of Cedar and 5th Streets.

NATIONAL FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS MEMORIAL – Kruse is among the fallen firefighters to be honored with inclusion on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

In his memorial, his children wrote:

“Mike was a ‘True American Hero.’ He never wanted to be recognized for all the wonderful things he did. Mike always stood up for what he believed in. He was always honest‚ even though the other person did not want to hear what he had to say. Mike always followed the rules‚ unless someone gave him a direct order to do otherwise.

Mike always put others before himself. He always talked about his family which he was so proud of. Mike stood by them through thick and thin. He gave his children unconditional love. He taught them to respect other people for who they are. Mike explained to them to love life because life is short. He became their best friend. He loved them for who they are. He was so excited about his little grandson‚ who bore his name. He took time out of his busy life to spend lots of loving moments with him.

Mike always went the extra mile at home and at work. He kept track of every run he had ever been on. He stopped by some of the houses while he was out for his morning jog and checked on patients to make sure they were doing all right. He never passed up the opportunity to play in the yearly basketball game with the Special Olympics. Mike always enjoyed carrying the boot and receiving donations for MDA.

Mike was a veteran at the fire department for twenty-seven years. He was still able to keep up with some of the younger guys. He was able to give the younger firemen the knowledge he had learned over the years. He was very respected for that.

Mike was taken from us at a moment in time when his family and friends were so proud of who he was. He will always remain alive in our hearts as a ‘True American Hero.’”

IOWA FIRE FIGHTER LINE OF DUTY MEMORIAL

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Muscatine Community Heart & Soul launches website to help start conversations on improving Muscatine

MUSCATINE, Iowa – Conversations on making Muscatine a better place to live, work, or operate a business begin with community leaders reaching out to community members to learn about what opportunities residents see for solutions and improvements to the quality of life in Muscatine.

Those conversations are at the core of the Muscatine Community Heart & Soul initiative. The Muscatine program will involve all residents in conversations to improve the community in ways residents want to see through building on the valued strengths.

“We are eager to hear from our community members concerning the various projects the City is working on as well as to gather information that will help guide our next Comprehensive Plan Revision,” Jodi Royal-Goodwin, Director of Community Development, said. “Asking what residents like about Muscatine and what they want to see more of is a crucial part of working to improving Muscatine together.”

The City of Muscatine was awarded a $10,000 seed grant from the national Community Heart & Soul organization to support of the Muscatine Community Heart & Soul program. The program seeks to gather resident feedback that will help drive positive change in our community by determining what matters most to residents. The feedback will be used to identify the action steps that will be integrated into the upcoming revision of the City Comprehensive Plan.

One of the ways that the forces behind the local initiative will use to collect feedback from residents is a survey that is available online. The short survey is also being distributed at community events so more residents can be involved.

The project’s leadership team is comprised of community members and is being directed through the City of Muscatine Department of Community Development. To be successful, however, the project needs YOUR voice. Residents can share their thoughts and feelings about Muscatine by completing the Heart & Soul survey at Heart & Soul Survey. Separate surveys are available for adults and youth, and are available in English and Spanish.

Your feedback today can spark change for the future of our community.

Meghan Custis was an intern with the Department of Community Development this past summer and specialized in piloting the Heart & Soul program.

“Heart & Soul offers true promise for our community and, I believe, will help connect residents across the board,” Custis said. “I’ve spent a lot of time getting advice from other communities that have completed the Heart & Soul process, and it gives me such hope for Muscatine. Great things are already happening in our community, this is an opportunity for residents to speak up and tell the City what should come next.”

Community Heart & Soul is a national model designed for small communities to uncover what residents collectively value and identify action steps based on core values. It has been field-tested in 90 communities across the country and shows proven results.

The Muscatine Heart & Soul project will be completed in three phases with the first phase concentrating in the South End area (Hershey Avenue south to the City limits), phase two the middle section of Muscatine (Hershey Avenue north to Mulberry Avenue), and phase three the east section of Muscatine (Mulberry Avenue north to University Avenue).

In each phase, the Heart & Soul team will dedicate efforts to gathering resident stories and experience through events, community forums, engagement at community gatherings, and survey distribution. This strategy will allow all residents to share their thoughts and perspectives on their neighborhoods as well as the overall community.

The project is estimated to take between 18 and 24 months.

“I grew up in the South End, and I know how the community looks at that part of town,” Kindra Petersen, a member of the Heart & Soul Leadership Team said.  “The South End has so much to offer the community: bike paths, a skate park, easy access to the riverfront, Deep Lakes Park, a mini-soccer area, the soccer complex, Kent Stein, a beautiful dog park, and more.”

 Petersen pointed out that there is more to the South End than just the amenities available.

“There are also tons of local businesses in the South End that are often overlooked because the big factories tend to overshadow the location,” Petersen said. “I’m hoping we can bring to light the vast opportunities South End has to offer our community.”

The newly launched Muscatine Community Heart & Soul website houses additional information, updates about the initiative, how to become a part of the team, and links to the surveys. Visit the website to see our progress and stay up to date on our efforts! As a resident-driven process, the involvement of community members to steward the Heart & Soul efforts is essential to this project.

Community Heart & Soul is a tested community-development model that has been used in over 90 small cities and towns across America. It focuses on three key principles including involving everyone and focusing on what matters. The third principle is playing the long game to uncover areas of improvement while building lasting relationships across the various communities, organizations, and neighborhoods. Heart & Soul uses an inclusive, affirming approach to strengthening communities. The focus is on building upon what is working and valued in the community while ensuring all voices are incorporated into solutions.

The local Heart & Soul project was announced in February and begins in the South End, an area that Royal-Goodwin noted has suffered from a lack of significant investment.

“The Grandview Avenue area is a neighborhood made up of residents and businesses on the southern end of Muscatine,” Royal-Goodwin said. “We have already received feedback from residents in this area and we are hoping for more. We are looking to work with residents and businesses to reinvigorate and revitalize this important area of Muscatine.”

The main focus of Heart & Soul will be improving the quality of life and economic development of Muscatine and beginning in the South End. That focus has been broken down into five pillars including street revitalization, economic development, recreation, business support, and residential support.

The City of Muscatine’s Grandview Avenue Reconstruction Project fits into the street revitalization pillar and will improve the drivability of the corridor with new pavement, improve the walkability of the corridor with new sidewalks, and improve the aesthetics of the corridor with landscaping.

Information on Muscatine Community Heart & Soul can be found at https://www.muscatineheartandsoul.org/, or on the City of Muscatine web site at Heart & Soul.

Son of Muscatine police officer attends FBI Youth Leadership Program

MUSCATINE, Iowa – Developing leadership skills for use now and in the future is the goal of the FBI Youth Leadership Program (YLP) that was attended by 59 students from around the United States including the son of a current member of the Muscatine Police Department.

Abram Jirak, the son of Jeff and Alissa Jirak, was one of the 59 students selected to participate in the program that is designed to benefit young people and future leaders. It was his father, a Muscatine police officer, who planted the seed that led to Abrams participation in the program.

“When I was 14 my dad said ‘Hey, there is this cool leadership academy from the FBI, are you interested?’,” Abram said. “I said that it actually sounded pretty cool.”

His father is a 2007 graduate of the FBI National Academy, a professional development course for U.S. and international law enforcement leaders, and that is where he first learned of the Youth Leadership Program.

“I thought it might be of interest to him but the final decision was his,” Jeff Jirak said.

Abram first applied for the program through the Iowa Chapter of the FBI National Academy Associates when he was 14-years-old, completing an essay and going through an interview process.

“I actually tied for first that year but the other person was older (16) so the chapter decided that the older person, based on seniority, would get a chance to go before the other people,” Abram said. “But my name was still in the ring. I applied at 15 but COVID hit so they cancelled the program, and I applied this year and got it.”

The FBI National Academy Associates and its 48 Chapters in cooperation with the FBI National Academy, Society of Former Special Agents, and FBI-LEEDA, hosted the 22nd Youth Leadership Program in June at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA.

“It was awesome,” Abram said. “It was a once in a lifetime event that I would do a 100 times over again. You get out there and meet people from around the country. Normally they would allow international people but this year they did not because of the restrictions on international travel. There were still 60 people from everywhere and I made friends with people from Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Maine.”

“The whole point of the academy is to provide special skills in leadership to the leaders of the next generation,” Abram said. “This is a prestigious academy built all around leadership and expanding that knowledge to the youth.”

Over the course of the week, participants focused on core subject matter which included Leadership, Ethics, Values and Choices, Juvenile Crime, Character Matters, Goal Setting, Bullying, Ethical Decision Making, Accountability, Social Media, and Financial Responsibility. These students also traveled to Washington, DC, to visit several museums and memorials, including Arlington National Ceremony.

The eight-day program culminated with graduation ceremonies.

“Where the FBI National Academy Program is the crown jewel of the FBI, the Youth Leadership Program is the crown jewel of the FBI National Academy Associates,” said FBINAA Executive Director Howard M. Cook. “We look forward to seeing where the journey of these impressive young leaders takes them in the future.”

Abram said that he just cannot say enough good things about the program.

“The training and classes were just amazing,” Abrams said. “I learned quite a lot about leadership, and about social skills and interactions with other people.”

Abram is not sure where his future lies but knows that the leadership tools he learned YLP will be a part of future.

“I get asked about my future a lot because I went to an FBI academy,” Abram said. “The program is based more on leadership than work in law enforcement. That is something you can take with you no matter what career you choose and just be a leader in that career and be a leader in your community.”

Abram is not necessarily looking at law enforcement as a future career but if he did it would probably be in federal service (FBI or DEA). He is keeping his options open, however, and is also looking at a trade school or the potential of military service where he could earn something like a trade certificate.

“Then coming back and maybe starting my own company or joining a company while using my leadership skills in that position,” Abram said.

“We are blessed and extremely pleased with what Abram has accomplished with grades, National Honor Society, and U.S. Community Service for silver cord hours, and definitely looking forward to his senior year to see what he can do,” Jeff said.

LINK TO SESSION 22 YOUTH LEADERSHIP PROGRAM VIDEO

LINK TO FBINAA PRESS RELEASE

Art Center receives grant to restore Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden at Muscatine Art Center circa 1933

MUSCATINE, Iowa – The Muscatine Art Center, a department of the City of Muscatine, has received a $122,402 grant to restore the historic 1929 Japanese Garden installed by Laura Musser McColm. The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs announced the funding award as one of five historic preservation projects receiving a combined total of $600,000 in grant awards. The other funded projects will take place in or near Creston, Decorah, Elkader, and Keokuk.

The grants are funded by the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service and administered by the State Historic Preservation Office, which is part of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Japanese Garden project at the Muscatine Art Center developed from a Historic Landscape Preservation Plan prepared by Iowa State University Associate Professor, Heidi Hohmann, and Graduate Assistant, Asif Khan. Hohmann made her initial visit to the site in 2019, and fieldwork took place in June of 2020.

“There are few existing Japanese-style gardens in the Midwest that date to this time period,” Melanie Alexander, Director of the Muscatine Art Center, said. “Japanese-style gardens were popular in the United States in the late 1890s through the early 1940s, but most were removed or neglected during World War II. We are currently working with a consultant, Beth Cody, author of Iowa Gardens of the Past, to research the garden and place it in its historical context.”

Muscatine Art Center Japanese Garden May 26, 2021

Cody’s research is funded by a grant from Humanities Iowa and is intended to aid in creating public programs, a booklet about the garden, and other interpretive materials.

The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs created the grant program last fall, after Iowa became one of just eight states to receive funding through the National Park Service’s Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grants program. The federal program was named in honor of an influential preservationist in Vermont and designed to support states, tribes, local governments and nonprofit organizations that own properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This was a great opportunity to collaborate with our federal partner, the National Park Service, to support historic preservation projects, boost economic opportunities and promote a sense of local pride in communities across the state,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer said. “Revitalizing these historic icons will better showcase the authentic character of rural Iowa and will benefit generations to come.”

With Monday’s announcement, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs expands its support for historic preservation, community development and creative placemaking efforts alongside other programs such as Iowa Great Places, Iowa Cultural & Entertainment Districts, Certified Local Governments, Local History Network and Cultural Leadership Partners. All of these programs help communities leverage local history, art and culture to promote tourism and economic growth.

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Press Release

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The Muscatine Art Center is located at 1314 Mulberry Avenue in Muscatine, Iowa. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated. Visit http://www.muscatineartcenter.org or call 563-263-8282 for more information about programs and events.

Blocked railroad crossings frustrating but part of life across the United States

Information on what to report and who to call to report long lasting blockages

MUSCATINE, Iowa – Blocked railroad crossings can be a nightmare for drivers especially if they are in a hurry and the blockage lasts for more than 10 minutes. Most cars and personal trucks have the ability to turn around and seek another “open” crossing but larger semi-trucks, like those hauling grain, are not able to turn around and must wait, rather impatiently, for the train to clear the crossing.

Complaints concerning blocked crossings in Muscatine have been centered along the Grandview Avenue corridor and extending south past Dick Drake Way. Blocked crossings, however, is not a problem limited to Muscatine … it is a problem across the United States.

Canadian Pacific Rail Road (CPRR) has installed information signs at each crossing that provides the crossing location number and the telephone number to call (1-800-716-9312) to report extended blockages.

This is the number that individuals should call first to file a complaint of a blocked crossing.

“You will need to know the crossing number, the engine number if you can see it, and the length of time the crossing has been blocked when you call the 800 number,” Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager for the City of Muscatine, said.

All information goes directly to the CPRR safety office who is able to communicate directly with the train crew to determine why the train is stopped, how long it has been stopped, and inquire if assistance is needed.

Individuals can also call the Muscatine Police Department (MPD) at 563-263-9922 to report a blocked crossing (do not call 911 to report a blocked crossing). MPD will relay the information to CPRR through the 800 number.

 “We have developed a good working relationship with CPRR and they work hard at resolving these issues,” Jenison said.

Iowa Code prohibits the blocking of a crossing for more than 10 minutes with four exceptions: (1) when necessary to comply with signals affecting the safety of the movement of the train; (2) when necessary to avoid striking an object or person on the track; (3) when the train is disabled: and, (4) when necessary to comply with governmental safety regulations including, but not limited to, speed ordinances and speed regulations. These four exceptions cover most of the extended crossing blockages.

Railroads are moving to longer trains in order to reduce costs and that is one of the reasons for the increase in the number and duration of blocked crossings. Sometimes trains have to sit due to safety protocols while at other times a part of the train will block a crossing due to switching operations.

Enforcement options are limited, however. Iowa Code does allow a local jurisdiction to issue a citation to the train, however, that power has been limited or removed by many courts in the last several years. These courts cite the fact that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 gave the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over the speed and movement of trains. The Act abolished the Interstate Commerce Commission and replaced it with the Surface Transportation Board (STB) within the Department of Transportation.

The Act effectively makes Iowa Code unenforceable as well as a municipality’s ability to cite a train for blocking a crossing.

Neither the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) nor the STB have written any code or rules restricting the duration or timing of trains blocking a crossing.

“While there are limited options to reduce the timing of these blockages, we have found that keeping the lines of communication open and working with CPRR has been the best solution,” Jenison said.

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) echoed that sentiment noting that by reaching out to the railroads directly with specific complaints can help mitigate a particular issue.

Public inquires can be directed to Canadian Pacific Rail Road’s Community Connect service at 1-800-766-7912 or emailing CPRR at community_connect@cpr.ca.  This information, along with answers to some common questions about rail operations is also available through the CPRR website at www.cpr.ca

The Federal Railroad Administration has a dedicated webpage for the public and law enforcement to report blocked highway-rail grade crossings. (http://www.fra.dot.gov/blockedcrossings)

Additional resources can be found at the Federal Railroad Administration (https://railroads.dot.gov/) or the Surface Transportation Board (https://www.stb.gov/stb/index.html).

Indian trail stone marker becomes part of riverfront memorial in Riverside Park

(Article provided by Rick Bierman)

MUSCATINE, Iowa – A stone Indian trail marker is, once again, on display at Muscatine’s Riverside Park. The memorial was placed during the summer of 2020 thanks to the efforts of the Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department.

In May of 1936 the trail marker was put on display at Riverside Park to honor E.L. Koehler and his efforts to beautify the park. The memorial was removed during landscape redesign and trail construction along the Mississippi riverfront.

The Indian trail marker and two similar markers were placed along an Indian trail that travelled from the Mississippi River to Rocky Ford on the Cedar River. One marker was placed close to the Mississippi River bank and was used as fill during levee construction prior to 1936. A second marker was placed at a point to the northwest of town and probably somewhere close to where the 61 Bypass and Mulberry Street intersect. This marker disappeared many years before 1936. The marker now on display at Riverside Park was removed from a spot close to Saulsbury Road and not far from the Cedar River.

Although no trace of the trail remains, research has revealed a likely path through the county. The map above, courtesy of Virginia Cooper, shows the town of Muscatine and the path of an Indian trail that passed through the area well before Muscatine was settled.

The trail starts at the Mississippi River where there must have been a ford across the river from the Illinois side. 

The trail continues across town to what is now Cedar Street and by Jefferson School. You will notice in the center of the map above that the trail crosses Mad Creek at the spot where the 9th Street Bridge was built.

This crossing is mentioned by one of our earliest settlers, Err Thornton.

During the spring of 1834, Thornton was looking for land to settle when he came to the trading house at the future site of Muscatine. He left the trading house with the intention of travelling east along the Mississippi River. He walked from the trading house to Mad Creek and then up to the Indian trail crossing. Because of high water, he was unable to cross the creek so he took the trail heading west and found himself lost and at a point a few miles northwest of the trading house. One of the three stone trail markers was placed close to the Mississippi River and probably marked the direction to go to find this main trail. 

The map above shows the northwest section of the trail where it moves along Papoose Creek and toward the junction of what is now the 61 Bypass and Mulberry Street. If you look at the center of the map, you will see a 7 with the words bent tree and a small stick drawing showing a vertical line with two 90 degree angles in it. The Indians had a way to manipulate the growth of a tree so that it formed two 90 degree angles. They used these trees to mark trails, campsites and other important features.

This tree looks like it might have been by Papoose Creek and close to the intersection of Cedar Street and Logan Street.

In a Muscatine Journal article of May 30, 1936, the Indian trail is described as starting at the Mississippi riverfront and extending to the Cedar River and then in the direction of Iowa City.

This 1845 map shows a road going from Bloomington (Muscatine) to a town named Lucas on the Cedar River and then on to West Liberty and Iowa City. Many of the early roads followed Indian trails because the Indians went from one place to the next following the most convenient route.

Lucas occupied the site of the abandoned village of the Indian leader Poweshiek. Poweshiek’s village was on the west bank of the Cedar River and by a natural rock bottom ford across the river. This river crossing was about a quarter mile upstream of the old Saulsbury Bridge.

Here is an excerpt from the accounts of another early visitor to Muscatine County during 1835, James Mackintosh.

“He stopped that night near the Iowa River, and spent some time the next morning in Black Hawk’s village, where Wapello now is.  He visited the old Chief’s tent; the Indians were out on a hunt.  He crossed the Iowa River at some risk – stopped that night at Thornton, but found no food for man or beast, and left at day-break next morning for the trading house, now Muscatine.  

“Some miles below, a family were encamped, and they having plenty of corn, the traveler’s horse was fed, and the saddle-bags filled in case of need.  The family were faring sumptuously on honey, from a bee tree they had cut.  An invitation was given, and gladly accepted.  That was an interesting group, sitting around the stump of that tree, with chips for plates, and nothing but honey for breakfast.  

“The next station was the trading house, and our traveler, who intended reaching Pine Creek that night, unfortunately took the wrong trail, and found himself on Cedar River, near Poweshiek village.  The weather turned suddenly cold, and being wet, having waded a creek full of floating ice, the only hope left was to get to the village.  But that proved impossible.  The river was open, and being unacquainted with the ford, to attempt it would have been madness, and to go back was equally difficult, as the creek was to cross, the bottom wide, and the trail two feet deep in water.  

“There was no alternative but to camp, without fire or food.  Matches were not common in those days – the fire-works had been lost, and the grass too wet to strike fire with the pistol.  He made a bed of leaves and grass, wound himself in his blanket, and lay down at the foot of a stump, to which he tied his horse, who fared the best, as his supper was in the saddle bags.  That was a night to “try men’s souls” – the howling of the storm, and the still louder howling of the wolves, made the night terrific.  Sleep was out of the question.

“It froze hard enough by morning to cross the creek, or the river.  He arrived at the trading house by noon, nothing the worse of his cold lodging, with a good appetite for dinner, having eaten nothing but the honey for three days and two nights.  Resting there that night, he proceeded next day to Pine Creek, where the accommodation was good for that period, and the next day he arrived at Frank’s claim, below Rockingham, which he purchased.”

Mackintosh’s account shows the existence of a trail from the trading house by the Mississippi River, moving to the northwest and ending at the Cedar River across from Poweshiek’s village. He also mentions a ford across the Cedar River and a creek that was probably Chicken Creek. 

We know that one of the three stone trail markers was at the bank of the Mississippi River, but where were the other two placed? Thanks to the research of Anne Wieskamp Collier, we know that the stone marker, now on display at the riverfront, was taken from the farm of T.M. Barnes, just this side of the Cedar River and by Saulsbury Road. The third marker, that sat northwest of town, might have been placed at the junction of two Indian trails, the trail going to the Cedar River and another trail that connected the Indian camps on the Iowa River by Wapello and the camps on the Mississippi River by Davenport. 

Thanks again to Muscatine Parks and Recreation for displaying this historic artifact.

Caution urged while using portable heating devices during winter season

MUSCATINE, Iowa – During the New Year’s weekend a trailer fire in Muscatine resulted in fire damage to one room and smoke damage throughout the trailer. The resident was lucky. The quick response of the Muscatine Fire Department prevented a much bigger tragedy.

The investigation into the fire determined the initial cause was a heating device left too close to combustibles. The investigation also found several other space heaters plugged into extension cords, placed in close proximity to combustibles, and smoke detectors present but the batteries taken out.

“This fire brings up safety topics of smoke alarm maintenance, use of extension cords, and the use and spacing of space heaters,” Mike Hartman, Muscatine Fire Department Assistant Chief and Fire Marshal, said.

Heating, cooking, decorations, and candles all contribute to an increased risk of fire during the winter months. The National Fire Protection Association says that it is important to pay careful attention to the proper use and maintenance of heating equipment, which are one of the major causes of residential fires.

The primary culprits in home heating fires are open-flame space heaters, portable electric heaters, and wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. Improperly installed or maintained central heating equipment can also be a cause of fire in the home, although not as often.

Heating is the second leading cause of residential fires, deaths, and injuries in the United States with December, January, and February the peak months. Space heaters are the cause in two out of every five home fires.

Hartman said fire code does allow space heaters but they are required to be plugged directly into the outlet.

“Space heaters pull a lot of power and can overheat extension cords and multi-plug adapters,” Hartman said. “The heaters need to be properly listed (kind of a given anymore), and spaced at least three feet from combustible materials.”

Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the invisible killer. This odorless, colorless gas is created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, etc. do not burn completely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of CO. Carbon monoxide incidents are more common during the winter months, and in residential properties.

The Muscatine Fire Department suggests a few simple precautions to help reduce the risk of a home heating tragedy, either by fire or deadly carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning:

  • Open-flame space heaters: Maintain at least three feet of clearance from the front and sides of the heater to any combustible materials, such as curtains, drapes, furniture, and bedding. Make certain the heater burns with a clean blue flame across the entire burner. If it does not, a plumber or heating expert should clean the burner and adjust the flame. Avoid the use of any type of unvented fuel burning heating device, and if absolutely necessary use only if the space is equipped with both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Portable electric heaters: Should always to be placed on the floor, not in a chair or on other objects. The portable electric heater should have an automatic shut-off device to turn it off if tipped over. Its electrical cord should not be in an area where it will get walked on repeatedly, without being protected by a cord protector, mat, or rug.
  • Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves: Maintain at least three feet of clearance from the front and sides of the fireplace or wood-burning stove to any combustible materials (see open-flame space heaters above). The flue or chimney should be checked periodically (optimally once a year) for creosote buildup, cracked, or broken flue tiles, loose mortar joints, and corroded or leaking flue pipes. The flue or chimney should be checked before use to be certain it isn’t blocked. These are attractive locations for birds and squirrels to build nests.
  • Fresh air: Be sure to allow some fresh air into the area where the stove or fireplace is in use. A lack of fresh air can cause incomplete combustion and/or interfere with the unit’s ability to draft properly, either of which can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the home.
  • Type of wood: The type of wood burned in a fireplace or free standing woodstove is important. Your best bet is to use hardwood, such as oak, maple, beech, or ash. It should be properly dried or seasoned for about one year. We also advise removing ashes regularly for maximum air flow. Disposal of ashes should be in a non-combustible container such as a metal bucket. Hot ashes or coals can smolder for days, and if placed in a cardboard box, or plastic garbage container the results can be disastrous.
  • Avoid burning trash: Homeowners should avoid burning items such as trash or gift wrapping paper.
  • Fireplace screen: Also, when leaving a room while a fire is burning, a fireplace screen or glass door should be closed to protect the room from sudden sprays of sparks.

SMOKE & CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are two essential tools every resident needs to protect their families and their homes. Working smoke alarms provide an early warning of a fire and allows residents to exit the home quickly and safely according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Carbon monoxide detectors are also a life saving device, notifying residents of the odorless gas that could be fatal.

Residents should check the batteries in each device located in the home at least twice a year and replace each device after 10 years (always write the date of installation on the device).

EXTENSION CORDS & POWER STRIPS

Most extension cords and power strips are meant to handle lower amounts of current and cannot handle the high currents space heaters draw. Extension cords and power strips are also a tripping hazard in the home and that could be harmful to a person and also cause the space heater to fall over.

Space heaters need to be plugged directly into the wall as heating elements can reach 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also keep an eye on them when it is in use.

“There is a common theme in space heater fires,” Hartman said. “They were left unattended.”

Other common safety tips:

  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand: Having fire extinguishers – and knowing how to use them – is an important part of maintaining a safe home for you and your family. When seconds count, having a fire extinguisher nearby is crucial for rapid response. Fire extinguishers should be stored where they are easily reachable and in key rooms where there is a higher risk for fires such as the kitchen and garage.
  • Practice candle safety: When burning candles for festive lighting, keep them at least a foot from anything flammable, never leave them unattended and place them out of reach from children. Make it a routine to check that all flames are extinguished before you go to bed or leave the room.
  • Play it safe in the kitchen: Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home injuries, so it’s important to know what you can do to help keep your friends and family safe while entertaining during the winter season. The primary cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended stovetops and ovens. If you are simmering, baking or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the kitchen and use a timer for reminders. When cooking for longer periods of time, don’t forget to use the exhaust fan or vent above your stove to help prevent carbon monoxide (CO) from collecting inside your home.

Additional Information:

Winter Fire Safety video

Portable Heater Fire Safety video

FEMA Up In Smoke – Space Heaters video

Safe and efficient snow removal key to City policy when Winter storms come calling

City of Muscatine trucks are loaded with salt and ready to hit the road to plow away any accumulating snowfall.

MUSCATINE, Iowa – When winter weather events (snow and/or ice) come to Muscatine, the City of Muscatine endeavors to maintain adequate traction for vehicles properly equipped for winter driving conditions and safe routes of travel for pedestrians. Snow and ice control is considered an emergency operation by the City of Muscatine; an operation that must be initiated quickly and continued on a round-the-clock basis until completed.

Representatives from City administration, the Department of Public Works, Muscatine Fire Department, and Muscatine Police Department monitor the forecast, determine resources needed for the weather event, and begin to stage those resources for snow removal operations. These representatives continue to meet as the storm approaches to determine the impact to public safety and to the safety of City workers.

The Department of Public Works (DPW) Snow and Ice Control Policy defines and outlines the objectives and procedures to be followed. Each winter storm has unique characteristics with climatological factors such as storm intensity and duration, wind, temperature, and snow/ice accumulation that are used to determine the City response to the event. The DPW plows streets in the order of (1) snow routes including hospital access streets, school access routes, and transit emergency bus routes, (2) central business district route, (3) residential streets, and (4) alleys. For more details, feel free to review the policy.

Snow Emergency Parking Plan

A snow removal operation, also called a “Snow Emergency”, activates an established plan for on-street parking. The activation can be declared by the DPW Director or the Roadway Maintenance Supervisor at the time ice or snow accumulations impede or hinder the safe movement of vehicular traffic or otherwise interfere with the safe movement of emergency vehicles or public transportation.

The City does its best to alert the public when a Snow Emergency is declared through the City website, City social media sites, local media channels, and Notify Me, the City’s free text notification system. Notice to the public is provided at least four hours before the beginning of the declaration. The Snow Emergency duration is a minimum of 48 hours. Sign up for Notify Me now to receive notifications.

For snow removal crews to properly and safely clear routes for travel, a snow parking plan is implemented on a voluntary basis until a Snow Emergency is implemented at which time the parking plan becomes mandatory. Vehicles parked on city streets in violation of the Snow Emergency Parking Plan, when in effect, are subject to $35 fines and/or towing. For more details, review the Snow Emergency Parking Plan.

The on-street parking plan works to increase the efficiency of snow removal operations by limiting on-street parking even if a snow emergency is not declared. In fact, the City urges residents to remember and utilize the on-street parking plan for any snow event of two inches or more.

The ability to clear city streets, curb to curb, and alleys in a timely, efficient manner benefits residents who need on-street parking and the City who can move on to other projects once the snow removal has concluded. Adhering to the parking plan can reduce the frustration of vehicle owners who often find their vehicles surrounded by snow piles and reduce the difficulties faced by snowplow drivers who must be aware of parked vehicles while clearing the streets.

To find out if a Snow Emergency has been declared you may call 563-272-2506.

Snow Emergency Routes & On-Street Parking

The City has five emergency snow plow routes which include snow ordinance routes, hospital access streets, school access routes, and transit emergency bus routes. These routes are cleared from curb to curb before the City proceeds to other streets. During a snow emergency, on-street parking is not permitted on either side of one of these routes until the streets are cleared. A color coded map of these routes is available on the City of Muscatine web site. (Snow Route Map)

According to City Code, streets that normally allow parking on both sides of the street will be subject to “alternate side of the street” parking during a snow emergency and this is the recommended parking plan during non-snow emergency events as well. The parking plan states that, on odd-numbered days of the month, parking is permitted only on the odd-numbered side of the street. Likewise, parking is permitted only on the even-numbered side of the street on even-numbered days.

There are two provisions for all streets where parking is allowed only on one side. If that side is on the even-numbered side, street parking is allowed only on even-numbered days with no parking allowed on odd-numbered days. Likewise, if the one side is on the odd-numbered side of the street, parking is allowed only on odd-numbered days with no parking allowed on even-numbered days.

The grace period (or transition time) for moving a vehicle between the first and second snow emergency day (and subsequent days as needed) is 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. For example, if the day was Nov. 28 and you were parked on the even side, you have until 8 a.m. on Nov. 29 to move your vehicle to the odd numbered side of the street. No tickets will be issued during the grace period.

Just because the snow emergency is over does not mean you can leave these vehicle on the street without moving them.  Muscatine Police will continue to ticket and tow vehicles that have not moved since the snow storm until the streets are clear. Muscatine Police Chief Brett Talkington reminds residents that the city parking ordinance states you MUST move your vehicles every 24 hours at least 25 feet. 

Sidewalk Snow Removal

It is the responsibility of abutting property owners to remove snow and ice from sidewalks within 24 hours after a weather event has ended. If a property owner fails to remove the accumulations within a reasonable time, the City, after attempting to notify the adjoining property owner, may remove the snow and assess the cost to the property owner. Residents are reminded that it is unlawful for any person(s) to remove snow and ice from private property by dumping them upon any public highway, street, avenue, alley, or sidewalk. Learn more about sidewalk snow removal.

The benefits of clearing sidewalks and driveways include reducing the potential for pedestrian falls while traversing the property, and clearing a safe path for public safety personnel if they are needed at the property. Cleared sidewalks help ambulance crews get to patients and to move patients from houses to the ambulance safely.

Refuse/Recycle Bin Placement

Snowplow drivers would greatly appreciate residents placing refuse and recycling bins in driveways and not in the streets during and immediately following any snow event. This will allow drivers to focus on clearing streets and will prevent damage to bins. Containers that are left in the street are subject to either being hit with a snowplow or forcing the snowplow driver to leave their plow to remove the container from their path.

 Fire Hydrants

The Muscatine Fire Department asks that property owners who have a fire hydrant on their property to take a few extra minutes while clearing their sidewalks and driveways to clear at least one foot around fire hydrants all the way to the ground and out to the street. Fire Department officials remind residents that seconds do count as emergency crews respond to structure fires and medical emergencies.

Thank You

The City of Muscatine extends their thanks to residents for their cooperation and in helping City staff do their jobs and to serve the public. If, by chance, City crews miss your street or if you need to file a complaint about a snow covered or icy sidewalk, etc., create a muscatineiowa.gov account and use the Let Us Know feature to submit problems or comments.

Mississippi Drive Corridor design honored with presentation of Urban Design Award from Iowa APA

Reconnecting Muscatine has been and continues to be an ambitious project by the City of Muscatine to reimage and reconstruct vehicular and pedestrian pathways that enhance the connection between the downtown area and the Mississippi River.

The work of the City of Muscatine and the design team at Bolton & Menk, Inc., on this multi-phased project was recognized in October 2020 when the City of Muscatine and Bolton & Menk, Inc., were named the recipients of the Urban Design Award from the Iowa Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA).

The vision began with a thought to transform a riverfront filled with old buildings, grain bins, and a switchyard into a park that the citizens of Muscatine could be proud of and visitors would want to make a destination. Out of that came the realization of the need for a strong connection between the riverfront and Downtown Muscatine.

The vision expanded with the realization that the park would attract people to the area and that would ignite investment into the downtown district. But to get from the park to downtown, or from downtown to the park, people needed a safe connection … a safer, more pedestrian friendly Mississippi Drive.

The vision of a connected Riverside Park-Mississippi Drive-Downtown Muscatine was created in the 1980s and has been enhanced since then with public and private input along with public and private funding.  The development of Riverside Park with free parking (542 spaces), plenty of green space for people to enjoy, and other amenities was the initial project. For several reasons that free parking was not being utilized including people having to walk to the downtown area for work, shopping, or dining, and for the many safety concerns to pedestrians as they attempted to cross Mississippi Drive.

As part of a phased reconstruction strategy for Downtown Muscatine, the City reimagined 1.6 miles of Mississippi Drive, developed plans for 2.1 miles of Grandview Avenue, began the reconstruction of 2nd Street through the downtown district, and completed an impressive roundabout at the intersection of Mulberry Avenue and 2nd Street.

In their project summary, Bolton & Menk, Inc., noted that Muscatine has a rich cultural and ethnic diversity rooted in industrial beginnings that shaped the city’s growth along the Mississippi River. Front Street, which was renamed Mississippi Drive in the early 1970s, was once a bustling boat and rail yard turned truck route that divided downtown Muscatine from the riverfront.

The riverfront was transformed into a regional amenity as the city evolved offering recreational opportunities along with public open space. However, the riverfront suffered from increasing vehicular traffic and the lack of connectivity to downtown. Accessibility challenges, dangerous railroad crossings, and aging infrastructure historically plagued the 1.6 mile corridor.

The reconnecting of the downtown district to the riverfront revolved around several key principles including: the need for the infrastructure to encourage private investment; solving fundamental planning, circulation, and public safety issues that have plagued the downtown and riverfront corridor for decades; redefining the public perception of how the Mississippi Drive and Grandview Avenue corridors should function while putting more emphasis on establishing multimodal corridors; using technically sound design and detailing practices that are mindful of flood potential and other adverse effects on the built environment; incorporating beautification and complete streets design principles with every project; and, engaging the public often, educating them on the “big ideas”, and building consensus throughout the process.

Through a series of public meetings, the project team was able to gather public input and support for some monumental changes to Mississippi Drive.

By evaluating the corridor’s traffic needs, understanding the barriers facing pedestrians, and identifying the impacts from the adjacent railroad, a concept emerged that featured a 4-to-3 conversion of Mississippi Drive. Incorporated into the concept was Complete Streets principles that would improve safety and create a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere to reinvigorate Muscatine’s riverfront.

The innovations contained in this project included an agreement between the city and Canadian Pacific Railroad to implement a quiet zone through Downtown Muscatine, and creating safer vehicular and pedestrian rail crossings. Other significant changes in the corridor project included back-in angled parking, landscaped medians, and a roundabout at the gateway to downtown.

Each of the Muscatine riverfront projects is unique but still work together to establish a cohesive look and feel while strengthening the community’s connection to the river. The roundabout created a vibrant entryway and solved key circulation issues. The Mississippi Drive corridor calmed traffic and re-established the riverfront connection. The Grandview Avenue corridor project will solve much needed infrastructure and access management problems that have stalled business development. The 2nd Street Project will inspire the creation of an even more vibrant retail, commercial, and housing market.

Each of these projects bring a creativeness to overcome specific challenges, and all in a combined effort for the betterment of the community.

The Mississippi Drive project has become a showcase corridor for the city and for the region. The re-imagined corridor will continue to have a positive influence on the economic vitality of Muscatine’s downtown area while influencing the expectation for future public improvements.

The Mulberry Roundabout project has proven that semi-trucks and other vehicles can safely navigate a roundabout and speed up the transition from one direction to another. The 2nd Street Project will improve the walkability of the six-block downtown area and create areas where people can congregate while shopping the unique stores and restaurants when it is complete in 2021. The Grandview Avenue Project that will use the principles of the Mississippi Drive Corridor Project will create a friendlier atmosphere for business growth while also creating an area that is more conducive to pedestrians and pedestrian safety.

The project team did not come to the final design for these projects entirely on their own. The City of Muscatine and Bolton & Menk, Inc., hosted numerous meetings with local businesses, freight truck drivers, public safety officials, and other key stakeholders including various members of the general public to gain a better understanding of the community needs and how the proposed changes would affect businesses, residents, and visitors. These meetings assured that specific needs were addressed during design and implementation while minimizing the disruption caused by the construction.

This engagement process helped community members gain a better understanding of the project’s technical aspects. Based on the technical analysis and public input the project was “right sized” for existing and future vehicular traffic while emphasizing safety and connectivity for pedestrians.

The design developed a distinct corridor identity that could be replicated in future phases of community redevelopment and reconnected the riverfront to downtown.

In addition to the infrastructure improvements that earned the City and Bolton & Menk, Inc., the award, another phase in gaining momentum that will not only further enhance the connection between the downtown and the riverfront, but also future enhance the connection between the riverfront and the rest of the community.

Segments of the Riverfront Park Master Plan are in the early stages of development. While it is still too early for details of these efforts to be released, it is an exciting time and something to look forward to by Muscatine residents and visitors.

The Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project began in May 2017 and wrapped up in November 2018. The roundabout was a separate project and was constructed January thru July of 2020. The Mississippi Drive Corridor Reconstruction Project is the biggest public works project undertaken over a two-year period in the city’s history, reconstructing 1.6 miles of U.S. 61-Business with a 4-to-3 conversion of the traffic lanes, improved street lighting, landscaping, gateway features, pedestrian crossings and sidewalk improvements, new traffic signals and geometric improvements, storm drainage improvements, and roadway embankment work to improve flood protection.

Modernizing U.S. 61-Business through the reconfiguration and reconstruction of the sub-standard, deteriorated roadway, and enhancing the aesthetics throughout the corridor that are consistent with Muscatine’s riverfront improvements was one of the objectives of the MDCRP.

The proposal also sought to meet the objectives of Muscatine’s complete street policy by improving both Muscatine’s quality of life and image by providing a safe and attractive environment for street users of all ages and abilities such as motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, mass transit, children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, freight carriers, emergency responders and adjacent land users.

Muscatine Firefighters, public pause to remember

Kruse remembered for dedication to training, safety

MUSCATINE, Iowa – A year and three days after 343 firefighters perished in a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Muscatine lost one of its own while battling a house fire in 2002. Firefighter Michael Kruse was remembered with the laying of a wreath at the Firefighters Memorial Monday (Sept. 14) during a special service commemorating the 18th anniversary of his death.

Fire Captain June Anne Gaeta placed the wreath in honor of Kruse in front of the Memorial during the brief service at 7 a.m. Monday. Gaeta and Kruse were part of the team at Station 2 in the 1990s that was led by newly appointed fire Lieutenant Jerry Ewers.

Fire Chaplain Dave McIntosh, pastor of the Hillcrest Baptist Church, provided the prayer and benediction for the service.

Kruse was 53-years-old and a 27-year veteran of the Muscatine Fire Department when he lost his life while fighting a house fire on the night of September 14, 2002. He was the first and only Muscatine firefighter to die in the line of duty, the only Iowa fire fighter to lose their life while on duty in 2002 and the 131st in the state of Iowa since records began in 1890. A total of 147 fire fighters have fallen in the line of duty since 1890.

Ewers, now the Muscatine Fie Chief, fondly remembers meeting Kruse for the first time as part of his team at Station 2, and sadly remembers the night Kruse lost his life.

“I remember that night very well,” Ewers said.

Muscatine Fire Department’s Green Shift responded to a structure fire at 10:30 p.m. on that Saturday night (Sept. 14, 2002) finding a wooden three-story multi-family home at the intersection of Orange and East 6th streets engulfed in flames. Kruse was one of two firefighters who were working on the structure’s roof when Kruse fell through and into the structure below.

When Ewers arrived at the scene he issued an all-call to bring in other shifts and relieve Green Shift in containing the fire.

“The tragedy suffered by Green Shift was felt by all those who came to the scene,” Ewers said. “But it was best to relieve that shift and allow them to grieve. We still had a job to do but it was a very emotional night.”

Kruse’s dedication to job safety and protecting Muscatine residents is a lesson that can be taught to the firefighters of today and those of the future. His sacrifice and loss of life while on active duty, the emotional toll it took on his family, co-workers, and Muscatine residents, and the hope that Muscatine will never experience a tragedy such as this ever again are all part of the message presented during each memorial service.

“Mike was one of the most safety conscious firefighter’s on the department,” Ewers said during a speech in 2012 commemorating the 10th anniversary of Kruse’s death. “Mike always looked out for other firefighters to make sure they were doing the job safely and that they had their full protective equipment on at all times.”

Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman also knew Kruse and carried a picture of Kruse with him when he completed the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Stair Climb. The significance that two tragedies come so close together for Muscatine Firefighters is not lost on Hartman.

“It is sad but also offers you an opportunity to reflect on the job, and the sacrifices they made,” Hartman said. “I look at it as a chance to kind of rededicate yourself. Mike passed in 2002 and we don’t have a lot of people on staff who remember him.”

Ewers first met Kruse in the 1990’s as a newly appointed Fire Lieutenant assigned to Station 2. Kruse and firefighter June Anne Gaeta were his crew.

Ewers admits that as a very young, very green fire lieutenant he was book smart but lacked the fire ground command and exposure to structure fires.

“Mike was a true teacher and mentor to me,” Ewers said. “His experience in fighting real fires, his expertise with the equipment, and his knowledge of the city helped this young lieutenant grow.”

Kruse joined the department in 1975 and was one of the first members to obtain his fire science degree at MCC.

“He was a true firefighter dedicated to protecting property and saving lives,” Ewers said. “He was very detail oriented, liked everything clean and in its place, and took his job very seriously.”

One thing about Hartman’s relationship with Kruse is that Hartman knows that Kruse would expect him to maintain his training and safety, two things that were very important to Kruse.

“That’s one of things I reflect on at this time of year,” Hartman said. “What can I do to train a little bit more, to be a little bit safer, or to help our staff train harder and be safer.”

Hartman said you can either focus on the negatives at this time of year or you can look for ways to become better.

“Everybody is going to be sad at the loss of life,” Hartman said. “You can be sad and focus on the negative part. Or you can be sad and ask what would Mike want. Those of us, especially those who worked with Mike, would ask that question.”

Everybody dealt with Kruse’s death in a different way. Many on staff just did not talk about the event or what Kruse meant to the department. A gap started to develop as staff left or retired and were replaced his young new hires. Hartman noted that after a while, one of the newer firefighters asked what you can tell me about the event and about Mike. Hartman and others realized that they had not done a good job of that, and sat down to put together a presentation to give to each shift. The two-hour presentation on the event, what went wrong, what could be done better, and what Mike was all about is now given at each new hire academy.

“You cannot undo what happened but you can use what happened and get as much positive out of it as you can,” Hartman said. “I think sharing this information with the department and the new hires helps to not only keep Mike’s memory alive but it is the right thing to do and brings them in to culture.”

Ewers spoke of the difference between commemoration and celebration during his 2012 speech. Commemorating an event, he said, is done to honor the memory of that event. Celebration is a time or rejoicing, a time to feel good about something that has happened.

“Commemorations often remind us of what we have lost,” Ewers said. “Commemorations are important, not because of the words spoken, but because of honor, courage, and sacrifice that were displayed during the time of the event itself.

“We all know in our hearts that firefighting is a dangerous profession,” Ewers said. “Mike knew this when he was hired in 1975. Not every firefighter who responds to the sound of an alarm is guaranteed a safe return to quarters. Some will be mentally scarred for life with what we see and encounter at emergency scenes, some will be seriously injured, and some will pay the ultimate price.

“So it was with Mike Kruse on September 14, 2002, while battling a house fire at 6th and Orange just a few blocks from here,” Ewers said. “We have gathered here to commemorate that tragic event that took one of our own and left behind a painful gap in our ranks. We will continue to do this as long as the Muscatine Fire Department is in existence.”

Muscatine’s Firefighters Memorial is located at the intersection of Cedar and 5th Streets.

NATIONAL FALLEN FIREFIGHTERS MEMORIAL – Kruse is among the fallen firefighters to be honored with inclusion on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. In his memorial, his children wrote:

“Mike was a ‘True American Hero.’ He never wanted to be recognized for all the wonderful things he did. Mike always stood up for what he believed in. He was always honest‚ even though the other person did not want to hear what he had to say. Mike always followed the rules‚ unless someone gave him a direct order to do otherwise.

Mike always put others before himself. He always talked about his family which he was so proud of. Mike stood by them through thick and thin. He gave his children unconditional love. He taught them to respect other people for who they are. Mike explained to them to love life because life is short. He became their best friend. He loved them for who they are. He was so excited about his little grandson‚ who bore his name. He took time out of his busy life to spend lots of loving moments with him.

Mike always went the extra mile at home and at work. He kept track of every run he had ever been on. He stopped by some of the houses while he was out for his morning jog and checked on patients to make sure they were doing all right. He never passed up the opportunity to play in the yearly basketball game with the Special Olympics. Mike always enjoyed carrying the boot and receiving donations for MDA.

Mike was a veteran at the fire department for twenty-seven years. He was still able to keep up with some of the younger guys. He was able to give the younger firemen the knowledge he had learned over the years. He was very respected for that.

Mike was taken from us at a moment in time when his family and friends were so proud of who he was. He will always remain alive in our hearts as a ‘True American Hero.’”

IOWA FIRE FIGHTER LINE OF DUTY MEMORIAL

National Fallen Firefighters Foundation