HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Jan. 16, 2006

Dassel firefighters to retire

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Randy Dawson of Dassel has to do “one of the toughest things a firefighter has to do,”– retire from the fire department, he said.

Responding to 200 fires and emergencies a year, half of them in the middle of the night, for the past 17 years, has become part of his life, he said.

Dawson and his wife, Donna, moved to a home in the country, west of town near Lake Washington, about five years ago. He was allowed to stay on the fire department, though, because he worked at Miller Manufacturing, which is within the city limits.

Dawson job in the tool and die department has been moved to the plant in Glencoe, so now his response time isn’t quick enough to be on the department anymore.

The district that Dassel covers is relatively large. It extends to Kingston on the north, the Meeker County line on the south, Meeker County Road 14 on the west, and the Dassel Cokato school complex on the east, he said.

Dawson, an Iowa native, isn’t the only firefighter the department is losing, though. Mike Sylvester, Matt Lund and Brian Boltz also are retiring.

When Dawson was about 27, he moved to Dassel from the Cambridge-Isanti area to be close to his parents, the late Roger and Charlotte Dawson. Dawson recalled he was approached by his employer, a retired firefighter, about joining the department.

“Well, sure. I’ll try,” Dawson said he told him.

Bruce Lindquist was fire chief then. Dawson experienced the worst fire ever, not long after he joined the department in the 1980s, he said.

“We almost bit the dust on that one,” Dawson said.

The grass fire started late morning in a ditch north of Dassel. “It just ran. It got into the swamp and everything,” he said.

Dry, hot winds fanned the flames and caused the fire to jump roads, swoop up trees 25 to 30 feet high, and threaten homes in the area.

“It was just roaring,” Dawson said.

Dawson started working the grass rig and hosing the ground and nearby homes.

“We got surrounded by fire,” Dawson said. Several times they rushed to move men and equipment out of the center of a circle of fire. One of the trucks was almost torched, he said.

“It was pretty much a panic situation,” Dawson said.

Lindquist shifted him and several of the other firefighters into doing back burns. By night fall, the back burns and the wind dying down allowed the exhausted firefighters to finally get control of the fire.

Now, whenever Dawson hears in the news about grass fires in the western states, he knows what those firefighters are experiencing, he said.

Another memorable fire in a house across the street from Dassel Elementary School featured more heat than flames, Dawson said.

When the firefighters got to the scene it appeared there was no fire, except for the windows being coal-black. They broke in to the searing heat anyway, and groped across the room in total darkness. It was so hot it vaporized a section of the floor, so that Dawson, with one more step, would have fallen into the basement. He could feel the heat through his protective gear. Lindquist had estimated the heat was 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit in that house.

“That was probably the hottest fire I ever went into,” Dawson said.

Another dangerous fire was in Cokato, in which the Dassel Fire Department responded with mutual aid. As Dawson and the firefighters climbed the stairs to the second story, the stairs collapsed into the basement, causing a rush of fresh oxygen into the stairwell. The back draft caused the fire to blast into the stairwell toward them from above, he said.

Fires weren’t the only emergencies to which Dawson responded, however. He was an emergency medical technician for 11 years.

“Fires are a rush,” Dawson said. Responding to a car accident, on the other hand, is shocking and traumatic, especially if there are children involved, he said.

Dawson remembered one particularly sad car accident involving a baby near Kingston. Dawson performed CPR on the baby, still in the car seat, but the baby didn’t survive, he said.

Being on the fire department also can be fun, though. Dawson enjoyed the water ball competition with fire departments from other towns in the area.

Dawson’s advice to the firefighter who takes his place on the department is positive.

“The best and number one thing, whatever you give to the department and community is exactly what you will get back. You make so many friends on the department. It’s unbelievable,” Dawson said.

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