Mensing named Minnesota Firefighter of the Year
There are 775 fire departments in Minnesota and over 22,000 volunteer firefighters in the state.
Each year one firefighter is honored out of the 22,000 firefighters as the Firefighter of the Year by the Minnesota State Fire Department Association.
This year the person chosen as Firefighter of the Year was Blue Earth Firefighter Mark Mensing.
Mensing received his award during a banquet on the final night of the 144th Annual State Fire Conference which was held in Mankato, April 26-27.
Mensing was nominated for the award by Blue Earth Fire Department chief, Roger Davis.
“I was going through the convention packet I received in the mail and saw the nomination form for Firefighter of the Year and immediately thought of Mark,” Davis explains.
In his letter in support of the nomination, Davis recounted Mensing’s service to the department and also added that Mensing demonstrates great leadership with younger firefighters, calling Mensing a proven leader.
Mensing joined the Blue Earth Fire Department in June of 1978. He started as a training officer from 1983-1985, then was assistant chief in 1986 and 1988. He then served as fire chief from 1989 through 1995. Next, Mensing served as captain from 1996 until 1999. Mensing has also been a fire instructor for Safety and Security Consultation Specialists since 2011 and for South Central College for 27 years.
Mensing found out he had received the award in a text from Davis.
“I was busy, I hadn’t read the text. I got a call from Roger who said ‘Read the text and call me back.'” Mensing explains.
Mensing says he thought Davis was pulling his leg, but Davis assured him it was real.
“It took a awhile to sink in.” Mensing says. “I would never have dreamed of getting it (the award).”
Mensing is a 1974 graduate of Blue Earth High School. He was not the first in his family to join the fire department.
“My father and my uncle were both firefighters,” Mensing explains.
Mensing’s father, Don, had joined the department in 1970 and served until 1990, so the father and son were able to serve together for 12 years.
“When I joined, you had to be voted in by the current firefighters,” Mensing notes.
Now there is a four-step process for becoming a firefighter, Davis explains. There is an interview, a written test, a physical test and final approval by the Blue Earth City Council. After that, a new fireman serves a probationary period of two years and must complete 150 hours of training during those two years.
Of course, there have been many changes over the years in the way fires are fought.
“Before respirators and air tanks became available it was a requirement of firemen to have beards,” Mensing explains. “They would soak their beards with water before going into a fire and stuff the beards in their mouths which would act as a type of filter against particles in the air.”
Mensing remembers the first call he had which was a car fire behind the Ankeny building.
Another memorable moment for Mensing came in March of 1989. He had been the fire chief for two months when the fire referred to as the “Main Street Fire” happened.
“The call came in around 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon in March of 1989,” Mensing recalls. “Eight departments assisted, the fire destroyed Moore’s Department Store and a plumbing business.”
There have been some other big fires Mensing has fought with the Blue Earth Fire Department, including the Northrop Elevator fire and the fire at Kerry Foods.
Mensing refers to the importance of families when being a firefighter.
When you are a fire fighter, you miss a lot of stuff. It is not just the fire calls, there are 33 mandatory practices per year and many other things which take up your time, Mensing relates.
“My wife Diane is such a big part of my career, she has had to put up with a lot of me missing family events, leaving during the middle of the night on a fire call or during the middle of the church service and not knowing where I was going or when I would be back,” Mensing says. “Yet, she is so supportive of what I do.”
Mensing also owns his own construction company and says he is fortunate to be working with someone who understands Mensing could be called away from a job at anytime.
“Chuck Lewis, who I work with, was a firefighter for the Winnebago Fire Department, so he understands I might be called away unexpectedly,” Mensing explains.
There is another family which Mensing says is important; it is his firefighting family.
“The comradery with the other firefighters, when you get on the truck and you are heading to a fire, is a great feeling,” Mensing comments. “I have been very lucky to serve with a good bunch of guys.”
The respect for Mensing as a firefighter and a person is not limited to the Blue Earth Fire Department.
Roger Carlson of the Fairmont Fire Department wrote a letter of support for Mensing’s nomination for Firefighter of the Year which said Mensing was as dedicated to the fire service as anyone he knows and hailed his abilities as a burn instructor.
Jack Volz, a firefighter for the Minnesota Lake Fire Department and the president of Safety and Security Consultation Specialists (SASCS), wrote in favor of Mensing, saying in part, “Mark is the epitome of what we all strive for in the fire service.”
Volz goes on to say Mensing was one of the first instructors hired by SASCS and gave a breakdown of the number of training sessions Mensing has attended in the last five years.
They include 73 house burns, 24 live fire training events with the burn trailer, 15 LP emergency burns and 178 individual fire training classes, according to Volz.
With over 40 years of service one might wonder if Mensing is ready to retire.
“Diane and I have talked over the years, we thought maybe when the kids were all out of high school would be the right time to be done, then it was maybe when the kids are out of college I would retire,” explains Mensing. “Now we are saying, ‘Maybe when the grandkids start school.'”
Mensing says he still enjoys firefighting and will miss it when he does retire.
“It is kind of funny, on a normal day I have some aches and the knees hurt and it can be tough to get out of bed,” Mensing explains. “But when the pager goes off and there is a fire, I can get out of bed real fast and I don’t notice any aches.”
It does give him an idea of when it will be time to call it quits.
“When the adrenaline rush is no longer there, then it will probably be time to step away,” Mensing concludes.