Firefighter of the Year: Darin Brown
Though Darin Brown is not one to enjoy the spotlight, he was deeply honored when he found out that he was deemed Firefighter of the Year through the National Exchange Club’s Firefighter of the Year program.
A banquet is being held for Brown at 6 p.m., Oct. 8, at the Eagles Club in Owatonna.
To Brown, the call to fight fires runs in the family. Brown followed in the footsteps of his father, Ralph Brown, and his brother, David Brown, by joining the Owatonna Fire Department 29 years ago on Oct. 1, 1986, as a teenager.
When he thought about nearly three decades of service as a firefighter, Brown said “it went fast, a lot faster than I thought it would.”
Frank Anderson was the fire chief that hired him, and Brown laughs that he does not think Anderson ever knew his first name, as he always addressed him as Mr. Brown in his “broken German accent.”
Brown spent his first seven years as a part-time fireman that slept in the upstairs living quarters of the fire department where there was one room full of 15 beds. He laughs that his brother could not get rid of him even after leaving the house.
“After years of living and fighting at home together, he still couldn’t get rid of me,” laughed Brown. “We ended up with beds like two feet away from each other.”
Brown remembers his first call was a house fire, and he stood buckled into the back of the firetruck. It was not until the late 1980s when firefighters were no longer allowed to ride strapped in to the back of fire trucks for safety purposes.
When Brown started, the training was minimal, so his first fire call was eye-opening.
“I remember looking at it, and thinking ‘oh boy,’” he said. “We didn’t have the training that they do now. New guys get live-fire training and experience. We didn’t really have any procedures then. The old guys just kind of said ‘this is how we’re going to do this.’”
Other memorable fires for Brown have been the Red Owl grocery store fire many years ago. He also remembers the challenge of evacuating a man through a window with fellow fireman Ron Segner (now retired).
“When you are involved in a firsthand rescue, you forget about everything else, and you let your training kick in,” he said. “People call us because it is quite possibly one of the worst days ever, and while we might not be able to change that, we can help.”
Brown said that an accident that will forever stand out to him was when a boy was killed in an accident on Highway 14. “I would much rather go to 100 fire calls than one accident,” he said. “For the most part, we can control fires and rescue the people involved. That is not usually the case for accidents.”
Brown said that helping others and being a part of the community are the main reasons why he enjoys being a fireman. “The guys down here too… There’s a camaraderie,” he said. “They become a second family.”
Fellow firefighter Jared Schmoll said that Brown was deserving of the honor of firefighter of the year. “He is a good firefighter,” said Schmoll. “He is very knowledgeable and very experienced.”
He admits that the unpredictability of calls can be taxing on family life. “It’s definitely a sacrifice for families,” he said. “It can be a birthday party or Thanksgiving and the pager goes off.”
Brown works full-time as an electrician for the City of Owatonna, which he said has worked well for him. However, he said that for some part-time firefighters, it can be difficult to switch gears from one job to another in a matter of minutes.