Democracy under fire

Geneseo/Clark poll workers save the day

Geneseo/Clark precinct workers including (l-r) Carol Boyce, Tammi Neuendorf, Chair Scott Neuendorf, and Cheryl Raub pictured Tuesday afternoon in the Dysart Community Building where a fire broke out earlier during special election voting. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

What was predicted to be a fairly ho-hum election day in Dysart on Tuesday — as most voters in the Geneseo/Clark precinct reside in the Union school district which did not have a ballot measure — turned out to be anything but due to a fire breaking out.

Around 11:30 a.m. while most members of the Dysart Fire Dept. were at the Methodist Church attending the funeral of Harold Langbehn – a beloved member of the department for 72 years – down at the Dysart Community Building an electrical fire ignited in the control box for the boiler’s blowers mere feet from where special election poll workers were set up.

“The firefighters said it was lucky we were here or it might have burned down the whole building,” poll worker Carol Boyce told the Telegraph.

Precinct chair Scott Neuendorf said he and his fellow poll workers first realized something was wrong when black smoke started billowing out of the black control box on the wall near the community building’s kitchen.

While Boyce ran down the street to the fire station to get help – the community building is located just north of the station – Neuendorf set about turning off the furnace.

Members of the Traer Fire Dept. work to extinguish a fire in the basement of the Dysart Community Building on Tuesday, March 7, while special election voting takes place nearby. Poll worker Cheryl Raub is pictured going over documents with another poll worker. PHOTO COURTESY OF CAROL BOYCE

No voters were inside the building at the time.

Within minutes, four or five firefighters from the Traer Fire Dept. responded, poll worker Cheryl Raub said, and got right to work on the control box — all while continuing to listen to Langbehn’s service on their radios.

Traer Fire had been providing coverage at the Dysart station during the funeral.

It took about 30 minutes for the firemen to extinguish the fire and give the all-clear, Raub said, and then they were on their way back down the street.

With no heat in the building, the poll workers contacted Tama Co. Elections Administrator Karen Rohrs to determine if they could remain open.

The control box that sparked the fire at the Dysart Community Building during special election voting Tuesday morning. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

“As long as you’re ok, keep it open,” Raub said they were instructed.

Most of those voting at the Dysart polling place were facing a ballot with just one question on it – a public measure for Hawkeye Community College’s $35 million bond renewal which would neither lower nor raise taxes as it is an existing levy.

Geneseo//Clark Township voters residing in the North Tama School District were also voting on a $14.25 million bond referendum.

During the most recent Dysart City Council meeting, a brief discussion took place about the age of the community building’s boiler and the need to replace it in the next three to four years.

While democracy — and part of the boiler — was literally under fire today in Dysart, it seems democracy also saved the day.

The melted wires inside the furnace blower’s control box in the Dysart Community BuilDing pictured Tuesday, March 7. PHOTO COURTESY OF TAMMI NEUENDORF