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Snap decisions: Ellsworth teen stops potentially devastating fire

When a fire started in a car he was working on his family's garage, Shane Elsen's quick thinking prevented the incident from turning into a disaster. Jon Claesson / Contributor1 / 2
The 1996 Caprice Classic that Shane Elsen was working on at his home on Aug. 10. Elsen said the damage to the car was minimal, with the only thing melting being the oil pan underneath the vehicle. Elsen said he hasn't worked on the vehicle since the fire. Photo courtesy of Shane Elsen2 / 2

Shane Elsen may be young, but he's been working on cars for a long time.

Lisa Elsen, Shane's mother, describes her 18-year-old son and husband, Jason Elsen, as kind of gearheads.

On Aug. 10, Shane was working on his 1996 Caprice Classic, a "junk car" according to his parents. The car was hydrolocked and was unable to turn the key over.

Shane pulled out the spark plugs and ignition fuse. The family garden hose was running charged and ready to go, set next to the Caprice Classic, just in case it might go.

Lisa was gone and Jason had just left with the Ellsworth Fire Department to head to the tractor pull at the Pierce County Fairgrounds.

Shane turned the car over.

That's when the flames started. And they were high.

"The flames were touching the ceiling," Shane said.

Immediately, Shane said he heard the fire ignite while he was still in the Caprice Classic with his hand on the key.

There was gas on the floor, as well as an oil pan underneath that still had oil in it.

Lisa pulled into the driveway and stepped out of her car to see the Caprice Classic ignite in the garage. Immediately, she called 911. While on the phone, she assisted Shane by holding onto the hose, dousing the fire, but not putting it out.

Lisa admits, at that moment, she thought her house might go up in flames.

At the tractor pull, one of Jason's colleagues joked about a fire inside a garage at an address that he knows all too well.

"I'm like, 'that's my house,'" Jason said.

Jason had just been talking to his son, helping him with the Caprice Classic about an hour beforehand. He credits his son's abilities, calling him "very mechanical."

Jason, along with his fellow firefighters, headed to the house and with just two blocks to go, the page was cancelled, saying the homeowner was able to extinguish the fire. But there was no way Jason was staying away.

At the house, Shane, with the assistance of his mother, found the fire extinguisher and put out the flames from his vehicle.

Upon examination, the Caprice Classic had no damage, with nothing melted as a result of the fire. In fact, there was no damage to the garage either.

In the quick moments between the fire starting and ending, Shane said he had questions running through his mind, but no time to ponder them.

"It all went through my mind at once," Shane said. "Can this garage burn down with this fire? Can I get it out with a hose? Can I get the fire extinguisher? Where's the fire extinguisher?"

Shane credited his father for teaching him lessons about staying calm. However, Shane said he's not sure if he wants to be a firefighter like his dad, but has considered being a volunteer firefighter.

Jason and his fellow firefighters pulled up to his home, which had smoke pouring out of the garage. Jason said Lisa was "a little distraught" and his son was shaking his head in disbelief.

At first, the firefighters and Jason teased Shane about the matter, saying things like this could happen to the most skilled mechanics. However, Jason said what Shane was able to accomplish, in a short time resulting in no damage to the car or home, is something to be impressed by.

"He just put out a fire that most grown men would watch the house burn down," Jason said.

Jason, in his 22nd year on the Ellsworth Fire Department, said he'll put no pressure on his son to become a firefighter. That decision is all up to Shane.

In his senior year at Ellsworth High School, Shane said he's not sure what he'll do after school. He's considered welding or business management and doesn't know if he'll stay in Ellsworth.

Even after the fire, Jason said his son cleaned up his mess the next day. If you were to walk in the garage now, you wouldn't have guessed there was a fire.

That's the kind of guy Shane is. As his father said, "He's got good head on his shoulders."

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal in December 2016 covering government, school board, and writing features about the community. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism. 

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