Discovering Stories of Fallen Minnesota Firefighters

The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation and one particular Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View (SBM) Fire Department staff member wants more than a list of names of the known 207 Minnesota firefighter deaths since 1892, reports

They want to tell the stories of these firefighters and family members who were left behind so that everyone is properly honored.

Shannon Ryder, standards technician for the SBM Fire Department, is finding these stories so they can be published in a book commemorating the fallen firefighters. Every family will get one book for free and have the option to purchase additional books, which will defray the printing costs, Ryder said.

Some families are sharing so many stories and photos that not everything will get into the book. One page is going to be dedicated to each firefighter. Extra material will be available on the website.

The stories Ryder has heard have helped shape the stories of firefighters when they were off-duty. When Jerry Allen Reed was a volunteer for the Deer River Fire Department, his daytime job was with the Minnesota Department of Transportation doing highway maintenance. He loved the outdoors. Photos show him hunting, on his snowmobile and running. He died in 1990 after he collapsed while on a hose line.

Unfortunately, Ryder assumes not all stories will be told. Large urban departments like Minneapolis and St. Paul have shared information for years about fallen firefighters, but there are likely gaps in reporting, especially for the small, rural fire departments considering how long ago some of these firefighters died.

What is considered a "line of duty death" has also changed. For example, a firefighter who dies of a heart attack on the job has been considered a line of duty death by state law since 2002, Ryder said.

Some fire chiefs told her about people not on the list of fallen firefighters that Ryder had and commented that they would have been included today. Ryder and the Minnesota Fire Service Foundation then had the difficult task of doing more research to determine if that person belonged on the list.

"I am positive the rural departments have line of duty deaths that we'll never know about," Ryder said. "I'm sure that not every name will be honored the way they should be, but I'm dedicated to do the best I can."

The goal is to have the book completed by Sept. 29, 2013 when the second annual Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial honor ceremony takes place, Zikmund said.

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