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Finland's finest present: Fire prevention day

Finland Fire and Rescue Volunteers take a minute out of their busy day. Tammy Francois1 / 4
Volunteer firefighters set up a portable water reservoir during a fire demonstration. Tammy Francois2 / 4
Natalie, 6. and Maddie, 4--future firefighters. Tammy Francois3 / 4
Lake County Rescue and Finland Fire and Rescue workers demonstrate the extraction of accident victims from a car. Tammy Francois4 / 4

Dogs lured by the smell of grilled bratwurst and hamburgers meandered in and out of the fire station. Kids donned red plastic fire helmets and filled in fire prevention-themed coloring books. Adults chatted amiably as oldies and country music played.

That was the backdrop at the Fire Safety Month demonstrations of Finland Fire Rescue and Lake County Rescue on Saturday.

Rita Himes sat in a lawn chair watching the goings-on. Attending with her daughter, Judy Bartel, she guessed that she was probably the oldest person there--born in Finland 93 years ago.

"We try to get to everything," Himes said.

Out front, Finland Fire volunteers Colin Bischoff and Trevor Kallinen secured the hand-painted sign--it had fallen over in the brisk wind--inviting the public to stop in.

"We just want to show the community what we do," said Bischoff, "(to) give them a demonstration of a live burn and a car extraction so they have an idea what we do when we go out."

On a patch of lawn between the fire hall and the rescue, a small structure had been built out of 2x4s and plywood, with firewood and other objects inside to simulate a house and its contents. The model was set ablaze as Jim Sinderman, a 38-year veteran of Finland Fire, described the fire's progress, the work of the fire-fighters and the equipment they used.

The equipment is a far cry from what the department had when he started, he said.

"All we had up here when I started was a Ford pick-up truck that held 350 gallons of water, and (a) GMC truck that held 1,000 gallons. Sometimes we didn't even know if the trucks would start," he recalled.

More modern trucks and equipment have been purchased over the years with donations, fundraisers, contributions from the county, districts, townships and grant funding. Money may also come from the state Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Forest Service when Finland Fire's tankers are used to extinguish forest fires.

Lake County Rescue's equipment is equally impressive, including an incident command rig that looks like a modern ambulance but is equipped with everything from food to computers and printers--everything needed for an extended rescue or recovery effort. Lake County Rescue also has a water rescue boat, GPS and a canoe rack. The team's workers are outfitted with gear to keep them warm in frigid northern Minnesota waters. There are also snowmobiles and four-wheelers and a trailer that can be towed behind to transport patients.

"It's not just car accidents and fires," said Mark Riebe, another long-time member both Finland Fire and Lake County Rescue. "We could go out looking for people who are lost, or people get hurt out on the Superior Hiking Trail. They could be miles from the road and we go in after them."

Those who have been helped by the teams are often surprised to learn the crews don't get paid for their time, said Riebe. Some of the equipment has been purchased with the donations of grateful hikers, kayakers and others pulled out of the water or carried out of the woods.

Fire does, however, make up a significant portion of the calls received. It's hot, dangerous work, so the safety of the crew is of utmost importance. Depending on the size of the wearer, each fire-fighter dons gear weighing 75-110 pounds, including insulated pants and jacket, gloves, helmet liner, helmet, mask, boots and air tank. "Firefighters don't burn, they melt," said Sinderman referring to the insulating quality of the clothing.

Extra care is taken to ensure that crew members stay hydrated and rotate in and out of the scene to prevent dehydration and exhaustion from heat and exertion. A safety officer on-scene is responsible to collecting dog tags from each crew member to ensure that "everyone who goes in, comes back out," said Chris Sinderman, a firefighter in his sixth year with Finland Fire.

Chris and Michael Sinderman, sons of Jim and Verna Sinderman are among many members of the crews who have followed in the footsteps of parents.

"I grew up with it. It's rewarding to help the community and the surrounding areas," Chris said.

Michael became certified as a first responder when he was just 13. Mark Riebe's son is a firefighter and Kayla Klinker is the daughter of a retired firefighter.

"I've always wanted to do this, but I went out of town to work for a while and didn't have the opportunity. When I came back, I thought I should join," Klinker said. She is one of two women with Finland Fire and Rescue.

"There's no special treatment," she said, "we're treated like everyone else and everyone on the team looks out for each other."

This sentiment was echoed throughout the day by Jim and Chris Sinderman, Riebe, and Brenda Van Bergen, Finland Fire's first female fire fighter whose husband, Ron, is the longest serving member of the fire department.

In addition to the hours of training, equipment maintenance and time spent on calls, Finland Fire has also taken time to develop a compassionate approach to their work.

"Losing a house is devastating and you get scrambled," said Riebe. "When you lose your house, you pretty much lose everything.

"I can't stand the idea of putting out the fire and just saying 'see ya.' We're here to help, so we've come up with a list of community assets," he continued. "There are pastors, motels, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and contact information so people know where to call."

When the demonstrations were over, the crews went about the business of cleaning up, putting away gear and making sure they were ready for the next call. It's all in a day's work, although their day doesn't really end.

"This is all volunteer and some people call us crazy because we're on call 24/7/365. It takes a special kind of person to do what we do," said Chris Sinderman.