Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 30, 2000

Daytime fire protection depends on support of local employers

By Lynda Jensen

During the daytime, few Howard Lake residents give thought to fire protection or ambulance response on the giving end.

After all, it's something happens without a lot of sacrifice. Or does it?

Not many know it, but fewer than half of the fire department is available during daytime working hours. And of these 14 dedicated volunteers, 11 local businesses "take up the slack" while their employees rush off to fight fires, according to Fire Chief Joe Drusch.

These local businesses - some with several employees that act as firefighters - sacrifice time and money each time a call comes in during the day.

"It's a balancing act at times," commented firefighter Mark Custer, who also owns Total Entertainment Center. Custer has been a firefighter for 24 years and has operated Total Entertainment for 12 years.

Every time a call comes in, Custer has to make the decision to leave his business and respond to the emergency, he said.

"You have to balance the responsibility to your business and family with the responsibility of answering the call. It really makes it difficult," Custer said.

This can be particularly true of smaller businesses that have to lock the doors to respond, Custer added. It was easier when he owned the grocery store because he had others who could cover for him, he said.

Larger businesses sacrifice valuable employees as well. For example, Security State Bank of Howard Lake has one employee who serves on the fire department.

However, the one employee - Steve Halverson - happens to be the vice president of the bank and a member of the board of directors.

Halverson directly oversees millions of dollars in credit and plays a crucial role there, General Manager John Forstrom said.

When Halverson responds to a call, other bank employees must make do until he returns.

"We just work around it," Forstrom said.

"As citizens, we're grateful for his service to the community, and as an employer we're willing to be flexible," Forstrom said. "We all work together."

"You never know when you might need the service yourself," Forstrom said.

This give-and-take idea is part of operating in any community, said Kevin Dahlen, general manager of Munson Lake Nutrition.

"Our life and health depends on it," Dahlen said. There are two employees that are firefighters at Munson - Barry Schmieg and Jerome Stoll.

"If my employees are civic minded enough to be part of the department, then I should be civic minded enough to let them," Dahlen said.

Most customers understand when the schedule is interrupted with an emergency call, Ralph Diers, owner of Diers Electric said.

Two of Diers' electricians are firefighters. When a call comes in, his employees work longer to make up their time, he said.

"There are always some customers that may not be happy because the job isn't done soon enough," Diers said. "But it works out in the end."

If his building was on fire, he'd sure want them down there to put it out, Diers added.

The decision to respond depends on the timing and how serious the need is, said Jerome Stoll, manager of the elevator at Munson.

During harvest time, it's tough for Stoll to respond. "Sometimes on the third page, I'll go," he said. "I have to use my own judgement." Stoll has been a member of the fire department for 23 years.

Timing is also an issue for other firefighters, such as Custer. "If someone is in the tanning room - I can't just lock up and leave," he said.

Custer also pointed out how tricky it can be if the fire department and ambulance crew are called out at the same time during the day.

There are 29 fire department volunteers, but of these only 22 respond to ambulance calls, according to Paul Utne of the fire department. This makes it hard to work with a small group, Custer said.

However, the fire department has the mutual aid of other departments, Custer noted.

"I don't regret a minute of it," Custer said of his service to the fire department. Giving his time to those who are in need is worth it, he added.

Three new members join

Three new firemen will be joining the ranks of the Howard Lake Fire Department.

The threesome passed a strength and agility test out of five people who applied, said Fire Chief Joe Drusch.

The testing includes climbing up on a ladder almost 30 feet with full gear on, said Paul Utne of the fire department.

The men also went through a search and rescue drill with breathing apparatus on, among other tests.

Their testing isn't done yet, Utne said. Currently they will be hitting the books to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).

Becoming an EMT is a requirement of the department and involves rigorous tests, Utne said.

Eric Stoll will be joining his father Jerome Stoll on the department. Eric lives north of the golf course and is unmarried.

The fire department has always been a part of his life, he said. As a child, he remembers riding in the 19261/2 Model T fire truck owned by the fire department in parades with his dad. Now he will be riding alongside him as a fellow firefighter.

"I grew up with all these guys," he commented.

Eric works at Joe's Sport Shop in Howard Lake.

Another new recruit for the department is Glenn Hofer. Hofer comes to the department with a long list of experience.

Previously, Hofer worked as a firefighter in the town of Rushmore for two years. Rushmore is in southwestern Minnesota, about eight miles west of Worthington.

He works as a sales associate at Automated Building Systems in Long Lake.

Hofer also acts as a reserve officer for Wright County. This will be his sixth year serving there, he said.

The chance to join the fire department cropped up recently when he built a house in town, he said. Before, Hofer lived outside the limits about five miles north for about 11 years.

Hofer has served as a First Responder for six years as well.

Hofer is married to Michelle, and they have two children, Kayla, 10, and Jamie, 3.

"I look forward to becoming (more of a) part of the community," Hofer said. Living out of town made him feel less involved. Now he can become more active in community functions, he said.

Kurt Strub also joined the department. He lives near the golf course, which was just built last year.

Previously, he lived too far out of town and couldn't join. Prior to this Strub lived in Waverly as well.

Strub owns his own construction business, Lakeside Construction, in Howard Lake.

Strub is married with two children, Matthew, 5 and Dustin, 3. His wife, Tracy, is expecting their third child.

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