'Just broken': Farm deaths shake firefighters in central Minnesota

Updated: Dec. 24, 12:25 p.m.

Members of a volunteer fire department in central Minnesota are trying to process a weekend tragedy in which toxic fumes took the lives of two of their own.

Millerville Fire Chief Rodney Roers recounted the string of events that began Saturday morning with a call for help — from an address the chief recognized immediately.

“Gravel Pit Road is a pretty distinctive road,” he explained.

Roers was the first to arrive at the Boesl family farm outside of Brandon. It's where his friend and fellow volunteer firefighter, Curt Boesl, and Curt’s 11-year-old son, Alex, were working in a silo.

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“We all knew right away it was going to be our assistant chief’s house,” Roers said.

Another son outside the silo called 911 and also called Curt Boesl’s brother Steve, a retired firefighter. Steve Boesl rushed to the scene and entered the top of the silo to help his brother and nephew but was also overcome, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said.

“We lost Steve at the scene,” Roers said. “My assistant chief, Curt, was airlifted to St. Cloud, where he later passed, and at this time Curt’s … son, Alex, is in the Twin Cities area in the hospital. And right now our goal is just praying for Alex and hoping for a Christmas miracle.”

Professor Ken Hellevang, an expert in agricultural and biosystems engineering at North Dakota State University in Fargo, explained that silage is feed for dairy and beef cows. It is usually made from fermenting corn stocks and cobs. Toxic gases are byproducts of the process, most commonly carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Hellevang said the accident serves as a reminder to farm with caution. He urged that farmers use proper ventilation, and ideally work with testing equipment that can detect concentrations of those two gases.

Millerville Fire Chief Rodney Roers believes Curt Boesl knew of the dangers. The struggle ahead for Roers and his fellow firefighters, and for family and friends of the Boesls, is to come to terms with the tragedy.

“You think you can handle it because from years of being on the call you see a lot, but when you’re sitting on top of a silo doing resuscitation of one of your good friends, your assistant chief, somebody you’ve worked with side by side and you talk to on the phone a couple of times a week, it really hits home,” he said. “So my team is, they are just broken.”

Roers is asking people to pray for Alex.

Correction (Dec. 24, 2019): An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the gases released as a byproduct of silage fermentation. The current version is correct. An earlier version of this story also gave an incorrect age for Alex Boesl.