By Starrla Cray
WINSTED, MN What does it take to lead a successful volunteer fire department while running a successful business at the same time?
“I would say you have to have a good group around you,” Winsted Fire Chief Brian Langenfeld said.
Langenfeld is speaking from experience. He’s owned Keg’s Bar (121 1st St. N.) in Winsted for 20 years, and has been a member of the fire department even longer. He took on the role of chief in 2016.
When asked what led him to join the fire department, Langenfeld recalls two specific influences growing up a TV series called “Emergency!” and seeing his dad’s involvement on the local ambulance crew.
Langenfeld’s interest in business ownership developed a bit later. After graduating from Holy Trinity High School in Winsted, Langenfeld explored possible career paths by taking some college classes and working at various jobs. At one point, he spent six months in northern Minnesota helping a bar owner start his business.
Langenfeld enjoyed that type of work, and returned to Winsted in 1991 to bartend at the Blue Note full time. Two years later, he applied to join the fire department, but the roster was full (30 members). Langenfeld was put on a waiting list until a spot opened up in 1996.
Since then, volunteer firefighting has been a big part of Langenfeld’s life, whether it’s responding to medical emergencies, attending hands-on training sessions, or planning for future department purchases. Fortunately, Langenfeld doesn’t feel like he has to do the work alone.
“We’ve got a good officer group,” he said. “We have the work spread out and everyone knows their responsibilities.”
The department currently consists of 23 members, plus two people who recently submitted applications to join. Some of the volunteers have been serving for decades, while others have just started their training.
“We have four or five between the ages of 18 and 22 now,” Langenfeld said.
As one of the longtime members, Langenfeld said he’s had time to learn from past fire chiefs both what they did right, and what could be improved upon.
“I’m trying to combine the best of everything,” he said.
Although he has years of experience, Langenfeld continually seeks ideas and opinions from other firefighters.
“Being open to suggestions is important,” he said. “. . . I don’t know very much, but I know a lot of people who do.”
For Langenfeld, the best part of being a business owner and fire chief is “the challenge,” and the most difficult aspect is “time management.”
Lately he’s become even busier, since he started managing The Liquor Depot in Lester Prairie in September 2017.
“It’s another challenge,” he said, explaining his desire to take on another responsibility. “It’s still beer, wine, and alcohol [like Keg’s], but it’s a whole different business.”
Both in his career and at the fire department, Langenfeld said it’s rewarding “seeing everybody work together to get things done.”
Langenfeld takes time for non-work activities, too, including spending time with family, participating on a bowling team, hunting, and running a summer fishing league. Langenfeld commented that he’s looking forward to ice fishing this winter, and he plans to get paperwork done while he’s on the lake.
While his days can sometimes feel hectic, Langenfeld said it’s worth it.
“It’s frustrating and rewarding all at the same time,” he said.