Clint Langerud's life has changed this past year and the Brainerd resident wouldn't have it any other way.
His life revolves around a pager he wears on his belt buckle 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn't matter if he and his wife Christi are having dinner at a restaurant or are at home bathing their two young boys. If the pager sounds, everything is dropped and Langerud is off to respond to a fire call.
"You never know what to expect when you get the call," Langerud said. "You don't know if it's a structural fire or an accident with injuries. It could be anything. You arrive to the scene and you may only have to help someone out of a vehicle or you could get there and someone may be dead on arrival, you don't know and you have to be prepared."
And preparation is what Langerud has worked on. He officially became a Brainerd paid on-call firefighter Thursday, after being on probation for the past 12 months. Langerud, 37, turned in his yellow helmet - the ones probation firefighters wear - and he was handed his identification badge.
Langerud has wanted to be a firefighter ever since he was a child.
"Who wouldn't want to be a firefighter," Langerud said. "I've always wanted to be a firefighter or be in the special forces, but I couldn't shoot anyone. The adrenaline you get from fighting fires is unbelievable, but the most exciting part of being a firefighter is saving someone, which is fairly rare."
Langerud said the fire department responds to about 800 calls a year and he's amazed with how well the firefighters work together to get the job done. Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said there are 30 paid on-call firefighters and five full-time fire equipment operators. Langerud said he has learned a lot from these firefighters. He said the most important thing he learned during his firefighting training wasn't how to fight fires, but the camaraderie between the firefighters and how well they work together as a team to put out fires.
"This fire department runs like the big city fire departments do," said Langerud. "Smaller fire departments may get 15 calls a year and that is not the case in Brainerd. These guys are dedicated. They put in so many hours in the department, outside of their job, that it's amazing. The fire engineers (who work full-time) will do their four 24-hour shifts, go home and when there is a fire they'll be at the scene. People in the community don't realize what these firefighters do and it's heartwarming. Firefighting is their life.
"I think the world of the brotherhood here at the fire station. They are my best of friends."
Langerud has had to adjust several of his day-to-day rituals to become a firefighter. Langerud said he no longer will have a beer with his dinner because you can't have alcohol in your system when responding to a call. Langerud said if the family leaves for dinner, grocery shopping or anywhere they always take two vehicles, just in case a fire call is reported.
Langerud said he always sleeps with his socks on now because they're hard to get on in the middle of the night if he needs to rush to a fire call. Langerud said he also makes sure he is wearing pajamas that he wouldn't mind others seeing him in.
"When coming back from a fire call you have to go back to the fire station to clean up your gear and you wouldn't want to be wearing pink pajamas or something like that," Langerud said with a smile. "If you did, you'd get a lot of crap from the guys, but that's the fun part of the friendships."
Langerud said his wife is supportive of his decision to be a firefighter. However, there have been some trying times. Langerud said one time he and his wife were having an intense fight about "something dumb" like snow removal and the fight had to be put on hold because a fire call came in. Langerud said when he got to the scene, a person had died.
"These people just lost a family member and whatever we were fighting about at home doesn't matter," Langerud said. "Arguing about something that is so unimportant and then going to something like that, it really puts your whole life into perspective. It totally changed the outcome of the fight ... We're lucky to have each other and to have a family. Everything else isn't important."
Langerud said his morals also changed by being a firefighter because he no longer cares about material things like he used to. Langerud said he no longer needs to have the best vehicle or the best that money can buy. He also no longer goes on expensive snowmobile trips because he wants to stay close to town just in case there is a fire call.
Langerud trained hard during his first year as a probation firefighter. And he already has something to add to his resume that no other firefighter in the department can. Langerud competed in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge on Sept. 4 in Omaha, Neb., and he was the only Minnesota firefighter to complete the competition.
Langerud knew about the challenge because he had seen it on ESPN for years. He thought it'd be cool to do the challenge and it'd be a good way for him to increase his skills as a firefighter. According to the combat challenge website, contestants wear full firefighting gear, including an air pack breathing apparatus and they go head-to-head as they simulate the physical demands of real-life firefighting by performing a linked series of five tasks of climbing a five-story tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses and rescuing a life-sized, 175-pound dummy as they race against an opponent and the clock.
Stunek and former fire chief Fred Underhill supported Langerud in the challenge and helped put together gear for him to train in. Langerud worked out four days a week for 2 1/2 hours. He ran six miles in his full firefighter gear which is around 60-75 pounds, he lifted weights and he did cross training.
"The first time I ran with all my gear on I only lasted 15 minutes," said Langerud. "The gear is really hot and you get pretty sweaty. But after awhile I was able to run for two hours in my gear."
Langerud said the challenge was originally designed to be done in five minutes and one individual did it in one minute, 18 seconds. Langerud took 56th place and his time was two minutes, 59 seconds. Langerud said 30 seconds was added to his time because of penalties.
"It felt pretty good to finish the competition," Langerud said. "Not everyone finishes. Out of 130 guys competing, only 105 finished the course. Others pass out because they are totally exhausted. It was tougher than I thought it would be.
"I don't think I trained hard enough to the point of exhaustion. I plan to push harder next year. My goal is to go to the 'Lion's Den,' the elite firefighters who finish in one minute, 40 seconds or less."
Langerud plans to put a team together to compete in the competition next year. He hopes they'll qualify for nationals.
Langerud said being a self-employed farrier, a specialist in equine hoof care, makes it easier for him to be a paid on-call firefighter because his hours are flexible. He said it's tough for firefighters who have a full-time job to make it to the calls. The paid on-call firefighters are required to respond to 33 percent of the calls and he has responded to 60 percent of the calls during his first year on probation.
Langerud had to go through a long training process to become a firefighter, like all firefighters have to do to be on the fire department. He had to take a series of courses in firefighting, hazardous materials, fire pump operations, fire and rescue and he had to earn the Emergency Medical Technician certificate. Langerud also had to pass a psychology screening and he took numerous written and physical tests.
Going on fire calls, Langerud learned fast from his mistakes. One time he grabbed the wrong hose on the wrong side of the truck. Another time the hose flipped him over after the water turned on because he didn't wait for another firefighter to brace his balance. Langerud said at each fire call he was able to do more and more. He said his first call he was in charge of holding the pressure fan, which he had to do for seven hours.
"This is what I want to do for the rest of my life," Langerud said of being a firefighter. "It's worth every effort. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Being next to someone who'll risk their life to save yours and knowing you'd do the same is unbelievable."
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at jennifer.stockinger@ brainerddispatch.com or 855-5851.