By Steve Peterson
Quick actions by an Ireton resident, who was driving a 1985 Ford cargo van that caught fire, assisted in saving the lives of seven children riding in the van.
The incident took place at 3:27 p.m., Friday, Dec. 6, at the intersection of Elwood Avenue and 420th Street, six miles southwest of Sioux Center.
After dispatchers received the call about the van on fire, Sioux Center sheriff’s deputies responded along with the Sioux Center Fire Department, Ambulance Service and Police Department.
Tara Dekkers, age 36, of Ireton, was driving the van with seven children when she reportedly heard a pop and then the interior of the van started to fill with smoke. Dekkers was able to pull the vehicle over to the side of the road at a corner. The van soon became completely engulfed in flames, authorities said.
“It definitely was great (that she was able to get all the children out safely),” said Sioux County Sheriff Dan Altena. “The children were ages one to six years old, so some were in car seats and had to be unbuckled.”
In addition to Dekkers, there were two one-year-olds; one two-year-old; one three-year-old; two four-year-olds; and one six-year-old.
A passerby, Richard Wieseler of Ireton, saw the kids in the ditch and stopped to help, he added.
“It’s one of the best acts of heroism I’ve seen — at Christmas time and the kids all got out safely,” said Altena.
“It was scary. It’s a 15-passenger van, and one child was in the first row, three were in the second row and three in the third row,” said Dekkers in an interview Monday morning. “The gentleman who stopped to help me was the only other traffic. I told the older kids to run to him.”
“I reached all the families yesterday and they were all so thankful,” she said. “I consider them my family anyway.”
“Dekkers’ quick action prevented injury to the children in the van,” stated a Sioux County Sheriff’s Office sheriff’s report.
“I don’t consider myself a hero,” said Dekkers. “Anyone else in my situation would have done the same thing.”
Altena said he would support any recognition of Dekkers’ actions.
Dekkers, a Unity Christian High School alumnus, recently restarted her day care business at her home.
The van is considered a total loss. Equipment such as car seats and strollers in the vehicle was destroyed. The cause of the fire was thought to be mechanical failure of the van.