For firefighter of the year, it’s all about assisting others
Michael Fecht hasn't missed one of the River Falls Fire Department's annual awards banquets since he started with the department, though this year he and his wife, Laura, had to adjust their work schedules to be able to attend.
"I lucked out," said Fecht.
At the Saturday, Jan. 20 event, Fecht was named Firefighter of the Year.
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Fecht has been a firefighter for 37 years - 10 of those with the River Falls Fire Department. He also currently works as a firefighter for Metropolitan Airports Commision Fire.
He initially started as a firefighter while living in Maplewood, Minn. His upstairs neighbor was a firefighter.
"I'd hear him at certain times running across the second floor going for his car," Fecht said.
Fecht joined the Maplewood department in 1979.
"It was just strictly to learn more, and help others that needed help," Fecht said. "That was the driving factor and always has been."
Fecht was on the Maplewood department for 18 years, then decided he'd like to be a career firefighter. He was hired by the South St. Paul Fire Department.
"My love was around aviation so I started testing for Metropolitan Airports Commission, and got hired there," Fecht said.
That allowed he and his wife to move out to rural River Falls about 13 years ago.
He's been a first responder for River Falls EMS for about 13 years. Through those calls he had contact with the local fire department, and ended up joining River Falls Fire as well.
Fecht said it's been interesting being both a career firefighter for his job in the Cities, and a volunteer firefighter in River Falls.
"I go from large jets and large crowds to a smaller, more rural residential setting which you can be very impactful here with just being kind and taking care of the customer," Fecht said. "They're calling because they're having a bad day and they just want someone to come out and help them and that's what we do here and we do it well. And it's very rewarding for all of us. That's why we're here ... we just want to help them out."
Fecht said it's always been a privilege to help others, along with the other crews with which he's worked.
"There's such a great mix," he said. "There's always something new to learn."
He said everyone's differing backgrounds allow them to bring their different experiences and talents together while firefighting. It's exciting to keep learning that way.
"I really enjoy that part of interacting and learning from others," he said.
"Mike is not only passionate and ... a team player, and he has a great knowledge base to share with us because of his full time experience," said Fire Chief Scott Nelson. "He is also humble enough to have a deep respect for the fire service and serving the people in town here."
"It's a privilege to say that I'm a firefighter for River Falls," Fecht said.
Fecht said he's also grateful for his wife Laura's constant support.
"My wife has been with me the whole way," Fecht said. "She's been very supportive and said yeah, if you need to do that or you need to go to school or training, I'm behind you and I've been very fortunate that she's been in my corner the whole time."