Mike Kruse is retiring after 47 years of braving fire and smoke for Northfield Area Fire Rescue Services, ending a venerated firefighting career.
He lives and breathes the Northfield firehouse — literally. Kruse has lived there all 47 years. For all of that time, he’s never had an uninterrupted night’s sleep. There’s always been at least one alarm, something Kruse won’t miss.
But he will miss seeing community members he’s helped out around town, his favorite part of the job. And he’ll miss “his family,” his fellow firefighters who’ve been with him in the best and worst of times.
His dad fought Northfield fires for 23 years, and from a young age, Kruse knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps. He recalled his excitement when his dad told him he had made the cut way back in 1973.
In the beginning he was nervous. Firefighting comes with its share of tragedy, and the last time he saw blood before joining the department, it made him feel sick. When he got started, he arrived at a tragic scene and an older firefighter told him to look at a corpse to develop his nerve. He looked, and the nausea never came, and he knew from then on he could do the job.
Since then, Kruse has worked with 125 different firefighters, seen the firehouse renovated, and responded to around 14,000 calls. He remembers the car accidents and medical emergencies of course, but his clearest memory is having to deliver a baby. The grateful new parents asked Kruse to be the child’s godfather. He said yes.
The department will sorely miss him, not only because Kruse is the best pump operator in the surrounding area, but because he’s selfless, a great teacher and an institution at the firehouse, Fire Chief Gerry Franek said.
“He’s always willing to help out, whether it be work a community service project or give a ride to a kid to a birthday party,” Franek said.
Franek remembers responding to a building fire with Kruse some years ago. Kruse was on top of the truck, working the pump, while Franek was down below. During the battle, a nearby gasoline storage tank got so hot that it took off like a rocket toward the truck. A flash of petrification later, the tank had just missed the truck, and Franek and Kruse locked eyes, acknowledging the moment’s absurdity and their luck. It’s these moments that have brought Northfield’s firefighters so close, and will make Kruse’s departure so hard.
Kruse has been talking about retiring since 2008, but he’s never been able to bring himself to leave — a running joke in the department, he said. These days though, his body is telling him it’s time to rest. His feet hurt, his legs are tired.
Now, Kruse will finally get the time to relax his body has yearned for. He’ll leave the firehouse and move to Finlayson. He’s looking forward to fishing and hunting, and hopefully having a beer or two with his former co-workers when they visit.
“It’s time for the young people to step in,” Kruse said. “You get that feeling that it’s time, and I’ve got that feeling. The city of Northfield, they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen when I leave because they’ll be able to take care of it.”
What made Kruse such a successful firefighter? Franek said it has been his strong willingness to serve the community. That fire never went out.