Cambria fire chief stresses importance of mental health five years after Didion explosion

“Don’t let it eat you up inside. It’s not wrong to ask for help,” says Chief Cody Doucette.
“Don’t let it eat you up inside. It’s not wrong to ask for help,” says Chief Cody Doucette.
Published: May. 31, 2022 at 10:23 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Five years after the deadly explosion at Didion Milling Inc. in Cambria, Wisconsin, the fire chief who led the rescue mission uses lessons learned that night to educate other departments around the state. He also stresses the importance of putting out the battles from the inside, mental health.

Tuesday night marks five years after the deadly explosion at Didion Milling in Cambria, Wisconsin. Five people died in the destruction and more than a dozen were left hurt. And since then the community is still dealing with the loss, and that includes Cambria Fire Chief Cody Doucette.

Chief Doucette thinks about that night every time he walks into the fire station.

On this night in Cambria, chief is doing training exercises with his crew. Packing up equipment, loading up the crew, it’s all practice for when a call for help comes in from the community. Off in the distance, Didion Milling Inc. is visible in the tree line.

“It’s a place where people lost their lives,” says Doucette.

On May 31, 2017 Doucette got the call for help around 11pm. He then directed his crew to Didion to start rescue efforts for workers still stuck inside.

“To watch people go into utter destruction and put their lives on the line to help others, you can’t even put it into words,” recalls Doucette. “They went in with a job to do, and they did it better than you could even imagined.”

Firefighters battled the explosion aftermath, giving their all for 56 hours straight. And now Doucette uses tragedy as motivation, sharing lessons from that day of the Didion explosion with departments across the state.

Chief Doucette
Chief Doucette(Pittsville fire department)

“I’ve given multiple presentations, my Assistant Chief Ryan Heart, and I have traveled all over the state of Wisconsin given presentations on Didion, lessons we have learned, things we could have done better,” says Doucette.

Doing more training and investing in larger equipment helps the department be better prepared for future disasters. But the biggest lesson has to do with putting out the fires from within.

“You have to take care of yourself first and foremost. As responders that’s our job we have to take care of ourselves first because if we can’t, who’s going to take care of the community?” questions Doucette. “You have to talk about it. You have to get it out there. Don’t let it eat you up inside.”

Now they lean on each other mentally and physically, turning that constant reminder off in the distance of that day into motivation to be stronger this day and all days to come.

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