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Finland Rescue Squad's last active founding member announces retirement

Pete Walsh, long time member of Lake County Rescue - Finland, will be retiring from his post in January after decades of service. Photo by Ken Vogel.

The Lake County Rescue Squad for the Finland area will have big boots to fill come January.

Peter Walsh was a founding member of the Finland Rescue Squad in 1986 along with Bob Curry and Jim Fox. Walsh has served as captain for the Finland squad and as the coordinator for the Lake County Rescue Squad in Two Harbors, Silver Bay and Finland.

Walsh lived in Cook County until 1973, when he moved to the Finland area after finding employment with Northshore Mining. Shortly after the move, he joined the Finland Fire Department, where he has served for 39 years and where he will continue on as chief.

What drew his interest to the rescue squad?

"It's so active, and above all it's the people," he said.

One of the more memorable situations Walsh recalled was a lost hiker in the Boundary Waters.

"This guy was lost for seven or eight days in severe weather, and we got him out alive," he said. A book was published about the incident, "Lost in the Wild" by Cary Griffith.

Teamwork has left a lasting impression on Walsh.

"On this department there is no such thing as two groups," he said. "I have seen firemen helping with rescue efforts and rescue members pulling hoses. I feel comfortable leaving at this point because of the caliber of the crew."

This sentiment was echoed by Pete Smerud, a 20-year veteran of the rescue squad, as he reflected on how Walsh provided great leadership and made the squad what it is today.

"When I think of Pete Walsh, I see an individual who walks into a room and gives the impression that everything is going to be okay," Smerud said. "He is calm, confident and professional."

Smerud described several high-stress medical calls in which calming distraught family members proved as crucial as caring for the patient.

"(Walsh) has an uncanny way of calming a scene; he just walks in and does his magic," Smerud said.

Smerud said Walsh also was trained in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, a valuable, peer-driven program that allows first responders to talk to a colleague from another department confidentially about an incident that may have caused some degree of post-traumatic stress.

Smerud said Walsh always has been supportive of his colleagues.

"I recall when the first woman was entering the squad, there was some resistance, but Pete was wonderfully supportive and embraced the opportunity," he said. Finland now has one of the most diverse squads in the region, he said.

Finland squad captain Erin Manning recalls the encouragement she has received from Walsh since joined the squad in 2010.

"He has encouraged me every step of the way" she said. "He has taken so many people under his wing and changed their life for the better."

Walsh also has worked for Cooperative Light & Power, clearing power lines, and at the old Standard service station in Silver Bay. Currently, Walsh works at Lutsen resort in the maintenance department, where he has been for 15 years. Walsh also serves as a Lake County commissioner.

Walsh characterizes his work as a county commissioner as something quite different than his previous experiences.

"This is different work," he said. "With fire and rescue, you go in and get the job done. This is new. I like it. I find it challenging and educating. It takes a lot of time and effort to get things done but it is rewarding."

So what will Walsh do with a little more free time?

"On Sundays, I am going to sit down and watch NASCAR," he said. "Or maybe take a nap."