Oakdale Fire Department celebrates 50 years

Oakdale firefighters leave Fire Station One to respond to a call for help in June. The department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week with two open houses and a golf tournament at the Oak Marsh Golf Course. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

How’s the sauce? Harry Johnson has fellow firefighter Gary Jungmann try his marinara sauce at a spaghetti fundraiser in March 1985. (submitted photo)

The Oakdale Fire Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week.

The department will commemorate this special occasion by hosting open houses at Fire Station One and Fire Station Two this Saturday, July 19 from 1 to 3 p.m.

Station One is located at 5000 Hadley Ave. N. and Station Two is at 6633 15th Street N.

Visitors to the open houses will get a chance to tour the stations, interact with current and former firefighters and get up close and personal with fire fighting equipment to see how it works. A photo slideshow of the department through the years will be on display and a new history wall will be unveiled at Station One.

Marty Jurgensen, coordinator of the 50th anniversary celebration committee, said the history wall will feature a photomontage and text detailing the department’s significant milestones from its founding in 1964 up to today, which will overlay an old fire station photo from the 1970s.

Humble beginnings

When the city’s fire department was formed in 1964, much of what is now Oakdale was still undeveloped. The Oakdale (Northdale) Fire Department got its start in the garage of a local resident, Dean Arnt, and had just 12 members, an early 1950s model Ford fire truck and an old Jeep.

Fire chief Jeff Anderson says 13 local residents got together at Arnt’s house, each throwing a few dollars in a hat for postage to get the word out about plans to start a fire department and to raise funds for a fire station.

These men were steadfast in their efforts to get the department started and a station built -- holding dances, dinners and other fundraisers to scrape together enough cash for building materials and basic firefighting equipment.

The newly formed department was able to secure a $12,000 loan to finance a fire station, which volunteer firefighters built themselves at 6279 50th St. The Northdale Volunteer Fire Department responded to 24 calls from the 60-foot-by-40-foot station that first year.

Retired firefighter Gary Jungmann remembers the early days of the city’s fire department like it was yesterday. He spent over 33 years as a firefighter in Oakdale, starting in 1968.

“Back then we didn’t have much and for quite a while got by on hand me down equipment,” he says.

While Jungmann, like most firefighters, was often placed in some very precarious situations while on duty -- from burning and crumbling buildings to raging grass and tanker fires -- he looks back fondly on those days.

“We were a family and spent a lot of time together and everybody helped everybody,” Jungmann says.

Times change, commitment remains

Today, the Oakdale Fire Department serves an area twice its original size and is staffed by 40-paid-per-call and eight full-time firefighters, who respond to over 2,000 medical, fire and rescue calls per year.

On that staff, the department has 31 emergency medical technicians and nine paramedics, who provide both basic and advanced life support 24 hours a day.

Being a fire fighter is a physically and psychologically demanding job that takes a lot of dedication. Calls for service don’t stop when the sun goes down or when the weather turns ugly. Firefighters have to be prepared to respond to an emergency situation on a moment’s notice.

You have to be dedicated,” Jungmann says. “You have to be prepared to get up in the middle of the night or from the supper table on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. You name it, we’ve been on ‘em.”

But Jungmann and his wife, Pam, say there were also a lot of happy, carefree times that they enjoyed being a part of over the years. There were regular social events like holiday parties, dinners, dances and fundraisers where all the firefighting families got together. It was also a time when everyone checked in on each other to see who needed a helping hand.

“There were so many guys with different trades -- plumbers, steelworkers, bricklayers, builders, mechanics -- if you ever needed help with something, you had it. You didn’t have to ask,” Pam says.

It’s that sense of community -- the bond that firefighters and their families share -- that the Jungmanns say they miss the most.

While the department has changed over the years, the camaraderie and dedication to service that firefighters have has been a constant.

“We’ve had calls that last 10 minutes and some that last 10 hours,” Marty Jurgensen says. “And you have to be committed to every call, even if it’s 25 below zero.”

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.


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