Brothers from different fire departments battle Chemtool fire side-by-side

Updated: Jul. 4, 2021 at 9:00 PM CDT
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ROCK COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV) - Two of the heroic firefighters who responded to the devastating fire at the Chemtool Plant in Rockton, Illinois nearly three weeks ago said the events of June 14th will be etched into their family history.

20-year-old Wyatt Bomkamp is a new recruit to the Janesville Fire Department. His engine responded to the fire at Chemtool, a grease manufacturing plant, as the initial explosions were taking place that Monday morning.

“They were screaming on the radio to take cover and whatnot. There were barrels flying through the air,” Wyatt described the initial, intense moments on the scene.

Not long after Wyatt arrived, a crew from the Clinton Fire Department pulled up to assist in the firefighting.

“I look to see who the driver was and it was him,” said Wyatt.

Wyatt’s 19-year-old brother, Tanner Bomkamp, was at the helm of Clinton’s rescue truck.

“It was a little intimidating at first,” Tanner described the billowing plumes of thick black smoke and massive flames.

The brothers, from Janesville, ended up battling the blaze side by side for the next 10 hours. “This is actually our first fire that we’ve been on together and it’s definitely going to be one of the most memorable ones,” told Wyatt.

Responders initially attempted to contain the fire, but ultimately the decision was made to cease water operations and let the fire burn to avoid polluting local waterways with chemicals.

During all the chaos, the brothers said looking out for each other came naturally.

“There was a point when we were kind of operating in the smoke on the bravo side. I did holler at him, told him to put his breathing stuff on,” said Wyatt.

“It was nice to have that extra lifeline in there,” echoed Tanner.

The brothers were inspired to become firefighters by their father, Ronald Bomkamp, who is a Battalion Chief nearing his 20th year with the Janesville Fire Department.

“It was a lot of time spent at the fire station obviously and it had a lot of influence on us picking our career,” told Tanner.

Their father happened to be off of work that day, but as soon as the brothers had a break their first order of business was to give him a call.

“He’s never been on anything that kind of scale so just to get to experience that and experience it so young I think it was it’s incredible,” said Wyatt.

Both Wyatt and Tanner started learning about firefighting around age 14 with the Janesville Fire Explorers. In high school, they completed EMT and firefighting courses through Blackhawk Technical College and Madison Area Technical College.

Wyatt previously worked at the Milton Fire Department before getting hired on in Janesville in February of 2021.

Tanner’s goal is to work at a fire department full-time. “I’m working on that right now. I’m working towards my associates degree and I’m also a certified driver-operator. I’m hopefully going to be in a paramedic program here in the fall,” said Tanner.

The brothers hope to work toger again one day, even though, as Tanner said, “we might drive each other crazy after a while.”

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