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Longtime trainer takes the helm of the Owatonna Fire Department

His face may be new to the community, but longtime firefighting trainer Ed Hoffman is a familiar face inside the Owatonna Fire Hall.

Hoffman has been transitioning into his new role as fire chief in Owatonna since May 3. He is succeeding Mike Johnson, who officially retires May 28 from his 20-year career as the city’s fire chief and emergency management director.

Coming from North Mankato, Hoffman has been in the firefighting industry for two decades. For the last five years he served as the commander at the Mankato Fire Department, heading up the training and the regional hazmat team. Over the years, Hoffman has led fire department training all over southern Minnesota, including in Owatonna.

“It’s a really fun, great group of guys here,” Hoffman said. “I’ve enjoyed training with them over the years and now to be a part of the group, will be great.”

Having been passionate about the training aspect of firefighting since the beginning, Hoffman said he is excited to be joining the team in Owatonna.

“They are really proactive here and I look forward to continuing that,” Hoffman said. “Owatonna already has a second set of turnout gear and we will continue to work on a decontamination area at the station that will allow the firefighters to shower off and get off all the contaminates quickly instead of tracking them through the station.”

Hoffman said he likes to focus on firefighter wellness and prevention efforts against the three main things that kill people in the profession: cancer, cardiac disease, and mental health.

Though Hoffman already has clear areas of focus, it was a journey to get there. Despite most firefighter origin stories including having a family member in the industry and playing with toy firetrucks as a kid, Hoffman admits he never thought his career would take him on this route.

“In my previous career I was in software,” Hoffman chuckles. “I honestly never thought I would be a firefighter.”

While in college, Hoffman said he had a number of close friends go into law enforcement, which helped expose him to the life of a first responder. In the mid-’90s, he decided to join the Blue Earth County technical rescue team, which performed high level rescues from car extractions to pulling someone from a grain bin and everything in between – everything but fires.

“I joined the Gold Cross Ambulance service part time and that’s when most of the people I was hanging out with and friends with were a part of the fire department in North Mankato,” Hoffman said. “I wanted to serve my community, so I joined.”

The rest is history, leading Hoffman to find his niche in training and eventually finding his way to Owatonna. Within the next year, Hoffman said he is hopeful that the housing market will calm down so he and his wife Lynn can relocate to the new community he is serving.

“I like this size of town where you really get to know people and everyone takes care of each other,” Hoffman said about his draw to Owatonna. “This is a proactive department that has been proactive for a long time – even before Mike. I am excited to continue on with that good history.”

Hoffman will also be taking on the role of the emergency management director for the city, something he already has experience in with his prior job. Though the emergency management position will no longer be shared with Steele County, Hoffman said he is confident that they will continue to have a strong working relationship between the two entities whenever a crisis arises.

“There is a lot of benefits to maintaining that close partnership,” Hoffman said. “I can be a resource for them and they can be one for me – we have a lot of skilled people in both areas.”

During his first Owatonna City Council meeting Tuesday, Hoffman introduced himself to the councilors and gave them a brief overview of what the fire department is working on in the immediate future, including preparing for a new firetruck to arrive and kicking off the rental and weed inspection programs.

Shot and chaser: Owatonna brewery providing incentive for COVID-19 vaccine

Celebrating the ongoing ease of pandemic restrictions, one local business is hoping to keep the momentum going with the enticement of good, cold beer.

Mineral Springs Brewery, working in collaboration with HyVee, will be hosting a “Shot and a Chaser” COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Monday in hopes of getting more people vaccinated and continuing the march toward herd immunity. After receiving the one-and-done Johnson and Johnson vaccine during the event, participants will be gifted a free pint of MSB beer.

When first approached by HyVee with the idea, MSB President Bill Cronin said the ownership group immediately jumped on board. The owners of MSB are Cronin, Mark Sebring, Mark Knutson, Rod Baker, and Tim Pelton.

“There was no hesitation on our part, we immediately asked what we can do to help,” Cronin said. According to Cronin, all the owners have been fully vaccinated for some time, having all taken advantage of the opportunity to get the vaccine when it became available to them.

Stemming from the idea of a similar event that took place at the Lake Monster Brewery in St. Paul, Cronin said that they are hoping the incentive of one of their locally brewed beers will help move the populous toward herd immunity, therefore avoiding another dial back on the COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s worth it,” Cronin said about giving away free beers if it means someone who has yet been vaccinated takes the leap. “We’ve talked all along about being a community asset, and if our asset of beer can somehow spark the community to get the vaccine then great – let’s use it.”

Cronin said they hoping to see 100 people get vaccinated on Monday, but even if there are only 10 individuals who come they will still feel they’ve help with the effort of “returning to normal.” Though the owners have been trying to encourage the safety restrictions and vaccinations throughout the pandemic, Cronin said it just “feels different” now that people are in their taproom without masks.

“It’s great to feel almost normal, but we are still nervous on what can happen if we don’t see the vaccinations continue,” Cronin said. “This is a very conservative area so the response to the pandemic has been very personal, both publicly and privately, so it doesn’t surprise me that there’s been some hesitancy here.”

“We are optimistic as owners that if we publicly display that we’re supporting this, that it might help,” Cronin continued. “We have a lot we’re gearing up for to bring to the community, and getting the community vaccinated is a big part of making that happen.”

The brewery recently booked out live music entertainment for the patio every Saturday evening through October. They also have begun dabbling in an open mic style opportunity for musicians who are looking for additional exposure on Thursday, Cronin said. In addition, the brewery is in the beginning stages of preparing for its Oktoberfest event scheduled for Sept. 24-26.

However, in order for these things to be able to happen, Cronin said the community needs to continue moving forward in stopping the spread and protecting others from COVID-19. While the taproom does not typically open on Mondays, he said they are happy to open for this reason.

“We would love to give away a bunch of beer,” Cronin said. “Get your shot and were will be a free one waiting for you.”