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Jeff Barth stands at the crossing where he tried to prevent a car-train collision in Marshfield.

Jeff Barth stands at the crossing where he tried to prevent a car-train collision in Marshfield. (Dan Young/Central Wisconsin Sunday)

Matt Schoonover

Matt Schoonover (Contributed photo)

Two central Wisconsin firefighters are among the people who will be honored March 23 by the American Red Cross at its annual Real Heroes Recognition Banquet.

Plover resident Matt Schoonover, who works in Whiting as a Department of Natural Resources forest technician, volunteers for the Whiting and Plover fire departments. Jeff Barth is a city of Marshfield firefighter and emergency medical technician.

The American Red Cross named both 2010 Emergency Response Real Heroes.
Jeff Barth

On Oct. 8, Barth was off duty and on his way home from the gym when he stopped at Kwik Trip. He made small talk with the man in line before him. After both left, Barth saw the man's car stop on a set of railroad tracks as the lights were flashing and crossing arms repeatedly struck the vehicle's trunk.

Barth left his car and ran to the other vehicle, pounding on the window after he couldn't get inside. When the train got close, Barth had to leave the tracks for his own safety. He couldn't do anything as the train hit the car with the 79-year-old man still inside.

After the crash, Barth provided first aid and called 911, but the man died several weeks later in the hospital.

The Marshfield Fire Department and Marshfield resident Melissa Barnes nominated Barth for the Emergency Response Real Hero Award.

People think of firefighters trying to save lives when they're in firetrucks or rescue vehicles, not when they're off duty, Marshfield Deputy Fire Chief Craig DeGrand said.

"We decided to nominate (Barth) because he wasn't working this day," DeGrand said.

Barth said everything happened so fast he didn't have time to think of the risk to his own life. He doesn't consider his actions heroic.

"I would have thought anybody would have done what I did. Had it been a construction worker or a farmer in the same position, I guarantee you they would have done the same thing."
Matt Schoonover

Schoonover was working at the state Department of Natural Resources Ranger Station in Whiting when he heard the call for a fire Nov. 3. Since the fire was close to the DNR station, Schoonover decided to go directly to the scene.

When Schoonover arrived at the home, he asked a person in the driveway if everyone was outside. The person responded that she wasn't the home's owner and didn't know. The Whiting and Plover volunteer firefighter entered the garage and then into the home. He saw a gentleman walking down the stairs into the basement. Schoonover could see flames at the bottom of the stairs.

Schoonover walked the man back out of the basement and learned the man's wife was downstairs. When Schoonover went back inside for the woman, he could no longer see the bottom of the steps because of the thick smoke. He called for the woman as he went down the steps, and he and the woman met on the stairs. The smoke was so thick they couldn't see each other.

Both the husband and wife were given medical attention by paramedics at the scene, Schoonover said.

Whiting Fire Chief Daniel Kontos nominated Schoonover for the award, saying Schoonover saved the woman from serious injury or death and probably saved her husband.

Schoonover said he was brought up to help people.

"I think it's just courtesy to help someone else out when they have problems," he said.

Schoonover has been a firefighter since he started volunteering with the Black River Falls Fire Department in 1974. He was a full-time firefighter in Madison and a volunteer firefighter in Pittsville before moving to Plover.

Steve Courtney, area fire leader for the DNR, said it does not surprise him Schoonover was named a Red Cross Real Hero. Schoonover has been dedicated to the forest fire control program in the area for years, Courtney said.

"He has a strong commitment for fire protection of the public," Courtney said. "This is well-deserved."

Source: By Karen Madden

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