by Jim Boyle
A long-time resident of Guardian Angels was recognized Tuesday at a Noon to Unite gathering for her quick actions that quite possibly averted tragedy.
Bonnie Backlund came to the aid of Russell Wellnitz when she was roused by the sound of a smoke alarm and stepped out into the hallway of Guardian Oaks senior housing to hear her disabled neighbor cry out for help July 11.
“I wondered what’s wrong,” Backlund said.
It became apparent to her there was a fire inside Wellnitz’s apartment. As she got closer she could hear he was hollering “fire, fire.”
She entered his apartment and saw there was a fire on the kitchen stove. “Flames shooting up,” she said.
She went back to her apartment, dialed 911 to let the fire department know of the fire and ran back with the fire extinguisher from her kitchen.
“I don’t know what came over me,” she said, noting she had never used a fire extinguisher before. “I just did what anybody would do.”
It was a food processor next to the stove that melted from the heat coming off the stove (that inadvertently got turned on and heated a tea kettle) and then caught fire. The building at 350 Evans Ave., home to 63 seniors, filled with black smoke and had to be evacuated.
Backlund was given a certificate of appreciation for her actions from Elk River Mayor John Dietz and recognized by Elk River Fire Chief John Cunningham and Elk River Police Chief Brad Rolfe.
“It’s nothing short of amazing,” said Rita Waxon of Guardian Angels. “She’s our heroine.”
Backlund says she could do without the fuss, but she understands things could have turned out worse. “It hit me the next day that it could have been bad news,” Backlund said.
Nationally, 3,000 people die annually as a result of fires.
Wellnitz and his bride of less than two months are quite appreciative.
“She saved Russell’s life,” said Carolyn June Sakariason, who married Russell on June 24. They were happy to attend the Noon to Unite event at Guardian Oaks.
There were about 135 guests there who heard about both crime and fire prevention.
The citizens of Elk River along with the police and fire departments have been participating in this event for 19 years. This year there were 33 neighborhoods plus events at the Senior Dining Site, the Senior Activity Center and a large community event at Lions Park.
“Each year, we have been amazed at how creative the neighborhoods become,” said Cheryll Edinger, crime prevention specialist with the Elk River Police Department. “But we all have the same goal in mind: “Get to know your neighbors, and keeping your neighborhood safe.”
Edinger says this year’s parties involved about 1,750 people. This year the police department continued with the tradition of sending officers out to different neighborhoods armed with statistics of what is going on in their areas. They addressed concerns now and hopefully suppressed concerns about crime in the future.
Over the last couple of years neighborhoods have participated in a C.A.E.R. food donation. This year over 700 pounds of food was collected.
Various businesses contributed either in cash, merchandise or coupons.
They include: Target Inc., Walmart, The Bank of Elk River, Dairy Queen, Coborn’s, Elk River Municipal Utilities, Elk River Eagles Club, Cub Foods, First National Bank of Elk River, Connexus Energy, Pizza-Man and Plaisted Companies. Also, many businesses donated to the individual neighborhoods.
Having neighbors like Backlund can mean a world of difference.