By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - “I miss it - I miss the guys,” said recently retired Howard Lake firefighter Steve Berg of his 30 years of service to the department.
He began his three decades of work with the Howard Lake Fire Department in July 1978, and hung up his turnout gear in August.
“I started at the fire department when I was seven, so I’m still pretty young,” Berg joked.
As a young man, Berg “always wanted to be either a fireman or a rodeo clown and that’s no bull,” Berg laughed. He has many memories of his grandparents driving cattle in the Buffalo area, and attending the Buffalo rodeo regularly.
“I always got a kick out of the rodeo clowns,” Berg said.
“A lot of people know that I wanted to be a rodeo clown, so they’d say I did them both. I was a firefighter and I am a clown,” he laughed.
A number of memorable events come to mind for Berg when he recalls his fire department career, but two fires in particular stick out. One was the American Feed fire on the eve of Thanksgiving a number of years ago.
“It started at 8 or 9 p.m., it was snowing and cold. It was a tough one, and a total loss,” Berg said.
The other fire that is burned into Berg’s memory occurred at the building that once existed on the east side of today’s Sunni’s Grill building, which is now a parking lot and driveway to the rear parking lot on block 18.
“All those buildings are right next to each other, and we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to contain it, and that it would spread. We did contain it, and the other buildings weren’t damaged,” Berg explained. “It was cold that night too. Our water kept freezing up and so did our SCBAs (self contained breathing apparatus).”
When Berg first started at the fire department, he was assigned a mentor in addition to formal training.
The late Roger Wrobbel was Berg’s mentor.
“He was a great guy. I couldn’t have had a better guy to be assigned a mentor,” Berg said. “(The late) Joe Ostgulen was the fire chief at that time. I attribute a lot of my work and interests today to their influence.”
“I have a lot of good memories. Times have changed so much. Much more training is required today to be a firefighter, which takes more time. It makes it difficult sometimes to manage that,” Berg explained.
An aggressive work schedule between his two jobs was the main reason Berg decided to hang up his fire hat.
“My main focus is my job at the sheriff’s office. I’ve got to focus on that, and can give back to the community in other areas, like my job with the ambulance service,” Berg said.
Even though he has retired from the fire department, Berg still puts in about 60-hour work weeks with his full-time job at the Wright County Sheriff’s Office and his part-time work at Allina Medical Transportation, which is an advanced life support ambulance service based in Buffalo, Annandale, and St. Michael.
“So, I’m still involved with the ambulance side of things,” Berg said. While working for the ambulance service, Berg’s duties range from providing patient care en route, to driving the vehicle.
Berg’s position at the sheriff’s office is the Wright County emergency management coordinator, which involves developing and maintaining the county’s emergency operation plan and testing this plan through scheduled exercises.
He also coordinates jurisdictional response to emergencies/disasters, including coordinating emergency services and communications. Additionally, he assists the 17 cities and 18 townships of Wright County in developing organizational plans and training programs.
“I also develop standards and procedures for the emergency operations center (EOC) and supervise EOC operations. I maintain inventory of emergency equipment and personnel, and prepare informational material for dissemination to the public,” Berg explained.
“And I meet with interested groups to explain the emergency management program and enlist their support and cooperation, as well as write grant applications to support the program and acquire resources,” Berg added.
“Our main objective is to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Wright County,” he said.
Although Berg’s busy schedule doesn’t allow for much down time, he admits he is “living a dream.”
“I’m doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. When you work with great people, work doesn’t seem like work,” Berg said.
Berg had such a great experience with the Howard Lake Fire Department that he encourages people to volunteer for their local fire departments.
“It gives you a good feeling about helping people in a time of need. You’re not always put in difficult situations. Sometimes you might help an elderly person or a child and the end result is good. It’s not always difficult,” Berg said.