A fire early Saturday morning destroyed a mobile home in the town of Beloit, injured one firefighter and killed two cats.
Officials from four Rock County fire departments think breaking down borders between communities will save lives.
Janesville, Beloit, town of Beloit and Milton fire departments are now using GPS technology to determine which department responds to incidents based on actual location instead of jurisdiction.
Officials announced the partnership Monday at a press conference at the Rock County 911 Communications Center.
The departments began last week using automatic vehicle locator technology to dispatch first responders based on which vehicles are closest to incidents, said Dan Pease, interim fire chief for the Beloit Fire Department.
With this system, if a fire breaks out at a home in Janesville and three fire engines and two ambulances are needed, the system would find the nearest engines and ambulances and send them.
That means engines and ambulances from each of the four departments might get the first call.
In the past, the call would immediately go to whichever fire department has jurisdiction over the incident location, and that department could call others for mutual aid if needed.
Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes said it doesn’t matter which words are on the side of a fire engine during an emergency. What matters is that people receive high-quality care as quickly as possible, he said.
Town of Beloit Fire Chief Gene Wright said the system already has been used twice in the town.
In one incident, a fire started on a property behind the town of Beloit fire station but in the city of Beloit’s jurisdiction.
Typically, the city would receive the first call. But in this case, the town fire department was able to get there first, Wright said.
Wright estimates crews responded to a fire at Rockvale Mobile Home Park on Saturday 10 to 15 minutes faster than usual because Beloit and Janesville departments were called out first instead of the town of Beloit.
A fire early Saturday morning destroyed a mobile home in the town of Beloit, injured one firefighter and killed two cats.
The new system is a step toward creating a countywide network of fire and EMT services, Wright said.
All four chiefs said they hope all 11 Rock County fire departments will eventually join the system.
Thousands of departments across the country use this technology, which has been around for about 20 years, Rhodes said.
The Janesville Fire Department spent about $30,000 to install an updated internet router for the system. The new router will also allow Janesville to connect to a national disaster network in case of a major emergency, which was not possible before, Rhodes said.
The Beloit Fire Department already had the necessary equipment and did not have additional costs, Pease said.
Milton Joint Fire Commission member Theresa Rusch said the new response system will answer some questions the commission has regarding where it should build a new fire station.
The Milton Fire Department for years has said its station on Madison Avenue is inadequate.
The joint fire commission, which represents the city of Milton and town of Milton, has grappled with the question of where a new fire station, or stations, should be located to best serve the city and town.
It’s too early to spot any trends as to which areas benefit most from the new system, Rhodes said.
Rhodes said he is not concerned Janesville’s resources will be spread too thin because Janesville likely would have responded to the same incidents to provide mutual aid.
The departments now are working on preemptively creating solutions for potential problems.
The departments have the ability to clear calls and send for different departments if they believe the system dispatched the wrong vehicles.
So far, that has not happened, said Brian Becker, operations manager for the communications center.
Ava Wawroski is a busy 11-year-old.
She plays piano (her favorite song is Queen’s operatic rock ballad “Bohemian Rhapsody.”)
She has her own business.
She has seven pets—three lizards, a cat and three dogs—and she once ordered a pet cockroach on Amazon.
But right after Halloween every year, Ava carves out time to start making Christmas cards for people who spend the holiday season in the hospital.
Every winter since she was 5 years old (or maybe 4 or maybe 6; the age is up for debate) Ava has made cards for people who are admitted to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville over the holidays.
She started making cards, she said, because she would want someone to make her feel special if she was in the hospital.
A woman who was in the hospital for Christmas told The Gazette about the card she received and how much she appreciated the gesture.
The woman chose not to share her name with The Gazette.
The woman’s card came with a dollar inside, which she said she gave to a local charity.
Ava’s card project has grown every year, her dad, Wayne Wawroski, said.
It started with a handful of hand-drawn cards and has grown to a dozen or more cards with candy canes or money inside. This year, she made 15 or so cards and donated books and pet rocks for children in the hospital.
Ava runs a business selling pet rocks out of a shop her father’s friend owns, she said. She paints the rocks to look like animals, Ava said.
The business began when Ava wanted an alto saxophone, the second of the two instruments she plays. Her parents told her she had to pay for half the saxophone on her own.
Ava was successful, Wayne said, and she continues to sell her rocks and pays for the business and the cards with her own money.
Ava’s out-of-the-box thinking shows through her cards, Wayne said.
The card the woman received says, “Have yourself a MERRY Little CHRISTMAS!” with a picture of two mice and two lizards exchanging gifts.
Inside, it says “Happy Holidays” with a picture of a lizard disco dancing.
Some cards are made with brass fixtures to make spinning components or have pop-up messages inside, she said.
Lindsey Harnack, administrative supervisor at the hospital, passes out Ava’s cards to patients every year.
It’s difficult for patients to remain positive while spending Christmas in the hospital, but Ava’s cards make it a little bit easier, Harnack said.
Patients can’t help but smile when they get the cards, Harnack said.
This year, Harnack gave a card to a patient who is blind, she said.
The patient lit up when Harnack described the card’s drawing: a lizard licking a flag pole, like the scene from the movie “A Christmas Story.”
The patient became emotional when she learned Ava’s card had a dollar inside. The patient insisted the hospital use the dollar to buy something for Ava, but hospital staff told the patient to keep it, Harnack said.
Last year, the hospital gave Ava a bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day to say thank you, Harnack said.
Hospital staff hopes to have Ava play the piano in the lobby next year during the holidays.
“She’s such a wonderful little girl,” Harnack said. “Not many kids would do something like what she does.”
Wayne is proud to see his daughter spread joy without the expectation of anything in return, he said.
Ava hopes next year she can make more cards and give them out at more hospitals, she said.
When she grows up, she hopes to be an architect or an entomologist, a person who studies bugs.
“It feels good to know I am making a difference in the community,” Ava said. “I know I can make positive vibes in town.”
Teresa “Terri” Hanson
Evelyn L. Leitz
Dr. Gregory A. Love
Philip Thomas Luebke Sr.
Robert Arthur MacArthur
Robert C. Rutherford
Susan E. Sathre
Gladys M. Slama
Shirley B. Thayer
Richard A. Thompson
Joseph E. Wellnitz
Jane knew she had been raped as a child. But she didn’t realize until she was a high school senior that she had been trafficked.
Recently, the 23-year-old Monroe woman has begun telling the story of how a friend of her father’s sold her body to other men when she was about 6 to 8 years old.
Jane is not her real name. The Gazette agreed to withhold her identity and other details to protect her family.
She will tell her story at a meeting Wednesday at Janesville’s Franklin Middle School, when the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force offers a panel of law enforcement and other people knowledgeable on the topic.
Jane’s story might not be the one that comes to mind when people think of sex trafficking. Her experience was in a small town, and she was very young. But she remembers money changing hands and graphic details.
The first adults she told about her experiences were school staff, who didn’t believe her and thought she was seeking attention because her father had left the area, she said. So she went silent and didn’t tell her mother or stepfather.
The assaults occurred on weekends when she stayed with her biological father. He couldn’t drive because of his intoxicated-driving arrests, but his friends gave him money to get drinks for a party, and he would walk to a liquor store, a journey that took him quite a while, she said. He left her with a neighbor who groomed her, then raped her and later sold her to other men. She doesn’t think her biological father knew.
As a child, when her biological father was mentioned, she would stare vacantly. She could not hear or see. Her hands shook, and her parents at first thought she was having seizures. They knew something had happened, but they didn’t know what.
Jane doesn’t think the neighbor was a part of any organized crime.
“Pedophiles know pedophiles, and he had access to a little girl,” something that could happen anywhere, she said.
A few years later, she confided in a school friend who later told other kids. Schoolmates taunted her about it, some telling her to kill herself, and some calling her “daddy’s little whore.” Kids even attacked her physically. She thought of killing herself.
“I try really hard to keep positive, and I’m sure they all grew up to be better people,” she said. “But it is a part of who I am and why I kept quiet so long.”
She kept quiet long enough that the neighbor and the other rapists no longer could be prosecuted because of time limits in the law, she said.
She went through years of therapy and medications for post-traumatic stress and anxiety, which continue to this day.
She was 14 when she finally told her therapist she had been raped. Then she had to tell her mother.
“I never saw my mom cry that hard. I can’t imagine the pain,” she said.
The therapist led her through “memory unblocking,” an experience she found scary and damaging as she relived the experience.
When she was 18, an English teacher assigned her to write about a societal problem. She picked human trafficking after an internet search for “world problems.”
As she did the research, she realized that she was not only raped, but also trafficked.
She followed the Rock County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force on Facebook, and one day, she saw a post telling how human trafficking happens in every Wisconsin county.
She reposted it with her own comment: “Take it from a survivor.”
Task force members contacted her, believed her and treated her kindly. She eventually told her story at one of their meetings. Her first public appearance was in fall 2018.
“They gave me such a voice that I didn’t know I had. … They listened. That was the first time anyone had fully listened to me on it.”
Telling her story in public has helped her cope, she said.
Jane believes she is remembering correctly. The flashbacks are so real.
“I can feel the hands on my body,” she said. “I don’t think my body would remember it as extensively as it does had it been a false memory.”
Jane wants people to be aware of human trafficking and to recognize signs—such as a child shutting down or acting out—that something is wrong.
Jane spoke calmly and matter-of-factly. A year ago, she would get anxious and found it hard to breathe when she talked about it. She credits much of the improvement to the support she has gotten from task force members.
Jane has attended UW-Rock County in Janesville, UW-Platteville and the Southwest Wisconsin Technical Institute in Fennimore. She works as a preschool teacher and has a fiancé. They are talking about having children.