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KRA fireworks display injures firefighter, investigation continues

WILLMAR -- The State Fire Marshal is investigating an unpermitted public fireworks display Wednesday night at the KRA Speedway in Willmar that seriously injured a volunteer firefighter.

WILLMAR - The State Fire Marshal is investigating an unpermitted public fireworks display Wednesday night at the KRA Speedway in Willmar that seriously injured a volunteer firefighter.
The injured man was identified as Travis Roediger, a member of the New London Fire Department, which was on standby for the races.
According to preliminary reports, Roediger was struck in the face as the fireworks were being lit.
He was taken to Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and then airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center’s burn unit in Minneapolis, according to New London Fire Chief Sig Holme.
It’s not clear if Roediger was lighting the fireworks himself when the accident happened.
There are a “lot of questions” that still need to be answered, said Jeff Gilbertson, who is serving as interim chief of the Willmar Fire Department.
The one thing that is certain is that “mistakes were made” and an individual - who Gilbertson said was at the racetrack to help - ended up getting injured.
Community fire departments take turns bringing a truck and volunteer firefighters to the track, Gilbertson said. On Wednesday it was the New London Fire Department’s turn.
The incident was reported around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the KRA Speedway, located on the north side of Willmar.
A fireworks display was presented following the car races.
According to city officials, the Speedway did not have the necessary permit for the display.
Those permits are typically filed at the city office and signed by the fire chief.
But Gilbertson said no permit came across his desk from the KRA Speedway for the fireworks show.
“We can’t find one on file for them,” he said. “City Hall can’t find any either.”
Deb Stulen, from the Willmar city office, confirmed Friday afternoon that a permit for the fireworks display was not filed with the city.
Efforts to reach a KRA spokesman for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
Gilbertson said he turned the investigation over to the State Fire Marshal’s office in St. Paul. Their staff has expertise in fireworks.
Gilbertson said he has questions about where the fireworks came from, who brought them to the site and if those individuals are certified fireworks display operators.
He said state fire marshals are conducting interviews and gathering information in order to “get a number of questions answered and facts sorted out.”
Jennifer Longaecker, communications director with the State Fire Marshal’s office, said she was unable to provide additional information because the case is still under investigation.
According to the Willmar Police Department, no citations have been issued in connection with the incident.

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Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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