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Firefighting dream comes true

Mitch Terpstra, firefighter of the year
From left, Owatonna mayor Tom Kuntz stands with Firefighter of the Year Mitch Terpstra and Sandra McConn Halla of the Exchange Club as he reads a proclamation declaring Oct. 12, 2023, Mitch Terpstra Day in the city. Staff photo by Joni Hubred
Owatonna native named Firefighter of the Year
By
Joni Hubred, News Editor

You could say Mitch Terpstra is living his dream.

Honored by his peers as the Owatonna Fire Department (OFD) 2023 Firefighter of the Year, Terpstra grew up in Owatonna with the hope of one day being a firefighter.

He left home to continue his education in Alexandria, attended school, worked full-time, and volunteered for four years with the nearby Villard Fire Department.

“Everyone that I worked with was on the fire department there, so if there was ever a fire call, pretty much the business shut down,” Terpstra said, adding, “It was kind of like a cowboy fire department… We didn’t have all the resources like Owatonna did, so we had to adjust.”

His decision to move back home hinged on getting a job with the OFD, and when applications opened, he jumped at the chance. He was hired in 2019 for a paid, on-call position.

“I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time, and I’m loving it every day,” Terpstra said. “I like to share my knowledge with the other firefighters as well, from my experience with the other small-town department.”

Honored and surprised by the award, Terpstra said his life is settled in Owatonna, and he has no plans to leave the department.

“I’m loving it every day… it’s been a great honor,” he said. “I look forward to doing this for many more years.”

Hosted at the Owatonna Eagles by the Owatonna Exchange Club, the event also featured a keynote presentation from Dan Fiene, representing "Firefighters for Healing."

The charity founded by former Minneapolis firefighter Jake Laferriere, who was badly burned in the line of duty, recently opened a Transitional Healing Center–like “a Ronald McDonald House for burn survivors and their families,” Fiene said.

Families stay as long as needed, even after the survivor is discharged and receiving outpatient therapy. The center is directly across from Hennepin County Medical Center; plans include a skyway from the building to the hospital.

Firefighters for Healing also offers Camp RED (Realize Every Dream) for survivors ages 6 to 16. The camp is free of charge to families and held at Camp Knutson in Crosslake.

Fiene said he’s involved with Firefighters for Healing because his son suffered third-degree burns over 25% of his body as the result of a bonfire accident.

“My wife spent 14 days sleeping in one of those hospital chairs next to a hospital bed,” he said. “If this Healing Center had been available to us, it would have been a Godsend.”

Fiene left the event with donations from both the Owatonna Eagles and the Exchange Club.

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