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St. Cloud, Minn., man thanks Finland crews for saving his life

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St. Cloud, Minn., man thanks Finland crews for saving his life
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

His first name is Jeff and he's from St. Cloud, Minn., but he'd rather not tell you too much more about himself -- except why he was at the Finland fire hall.


Last year, Jeff sustained injuries and lost consciousness in an ATV accident near his Lake County cabin. He credits the volunteers from Finland Fire and Rescue and Lake County Rescue-Finland for saving him.

A veteran of emergency services himself, he says he has now seen the profession from both sides.

"I used to work for the Hennepin County Water Patrol and I went through most of the same rescue training, so I had an appreciation for what when into it," he said of the volunteers' efforts. "When I came to and Mark (Reibe) was holding my head, I knew it was going to be okay."

The man shook hands and got bear hugs from some of the squad members including, Finland Fire captain, Chris Sinderman, who was also on-scene that day. The occasion this time, on Oct. 5, was the second annual Fire Prevention Day event of the two squads.

"We helped Lake County Rescue as best we could," Sinderman recalled. Their combined efforts resulted in a positive outcome for Jeff, who was smiling as he left the hall.

Fire Prevention Day activities which included live burn demonstrations showcased equipment and the teamwork required to battle blazes when they occur, skills that were tested by crews last June during another emergency: when Zion Lutheran Church was struck by lightning and ultimately destroyed by fire. The memory is still fresh in many volunteers' minds.

"It was something else," recalled Tyler Ellefson, who has been with Finland Fire for a little over a year.

"The neatest thing was to see so many departments and how we worked together."

An estimated 80 firefighters from all over the county responded to the call and tried to prevent the fire's progress, but it quickly spread to the open spaces under the structure's roof.

"It sounded like a freight train," said Jim Sinderman, also of Finland Fire, "and it was so hot."

In the end, Fire Chief Pete Walsh called crews back, fearing that someone would be hurt. The church was a total loss, but crews turned their focus to saving the parsonage, just feet away. The home, used by staff of the Environmental Learning Center, suffered only minor damage.

The fire demo on Saturday was for the benefit of observers, but it was also a practice drill for the crew, some of whom are new to firefighting, like Tyler Mc Millen and Karl Klinker.

A Finland native, Klinker joined the department just three weeks ago. He said the decision to volunteer was easy.

"I love this town and I have weekends off. This will keep me busy and the high pressure's a good workout. It'll keep me in shape," he joked.

Klinker's affection for the northwoods community is shared by many other crew members and some say they were inspired to join by friends and family members -- siblings, parents and grandparents -- Kallinen, Sinderman, Bischoff and many more, all familiar names on the fire and rescue rosters past and present.

Later, a two-car crash was simulated and both Finland Fire and Lake County Rescue demonstrated the extraction of victims from the vehicles and procedures for patient care. Afterward they evaluated their performance. Walsh calls the assessment "the good, the bad, and the ugly," and said that it's an important part of reinforcing the positives and learning from missteps.

Three missteps by a volunteer, earns what Chris Sinderman humorously referred to as a "come to Jesus talk" with the chief, intended to make the prodigal see the error in his or her ways. It all seems to be working.

Jeff can attest to that.

"They got me bandaged up and took me to the hospital," he said, "I'm doing really well today thanks to all of you."

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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