Above him, the sky was dark. Below him, the water murky and waist deep. Russ Cornford estimates the weight of his soaked turnout gear topped 150 pounds as he trudged through flooded streets and homes, hoisting frightened residents and shivering pets over his shoulders. For some 26 hours straight, the Coon Valley fire chief powered through the most devastating flood the village had ever seen last August and September, thinking not of hunger, not of fatigue, not of pain, but of people — the 700 men, women and children in the community he loves, the village he calls home. Cornford, 60, has been a resident of Coon Valley for five decades, a small town, he says, of friendly folks with deep ties. “I don’t know how to describe it,” Cornford said. “But I don’t want to leave.”
Cornford is a leader, a lifesaver, a local hero. And he is the La Crosse Tribune’s 2018 Person of the Year.