For three generations, one Oakdale family has served the city as firefighters


submitted photo • Holly Jeske is a third generation Oakdale firefighter, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Gary Jungman, and uncle, B.J. Jungmann.

submitted photo • Holly Jeske participated in the Oakdale Fire Explorers program for several years before being officially sworn in as an Oakdale firefighter May 4. The program allowed her to gain firefighting skills and compete against other Fire Explorers in events like a gear competition in 2015. Right, B.J. Jungmann said that because his dad was a firefighter, he spent most of his childhood at the fire department even before he became an Oakdale Fire Explorer.

submitted photo • In 1998, B.J. Jungmann demonstrated carrying a hose up a ladder. Today, he is chief of the Burnsville Fire Department.

submitted photo • Gary Jungmann worked as an Oakdale firefighter between 1968 and 2001. For several of those years he served as the chief engineer and taught other firefighters, including his son, how to drive the trucks and use them to pump water. The above photo was taken in 1978.

Holly Jeske was sworn into the Oakdale Fire Department on May 4, making her a third generation Oakdale firefighter.

Jeske’s grandfather, Gary Jungmann, began his service 50 years ago, when the department was still called the Northdale Volunteer Fire Department, after the name of a township that existed for about a decade before becoming the northern part of today’s Oakdale.

Jungmann was a part of the department for just over 33 years, between 1968 and 2001. 

Jeske’s uncle, B.J. Jungmann, served 11 years as an Oakdale firefighter between 2000 and 2011. He is now chief of the Burnsville Fire Department.

Jeske said she’s very honored to be a third generation firefighter, adding, “I got to watch [my uncle and grandfather] go through what they had to go through and how things have advanced.” 

 

Different training for different times

Jungmann said that in his early years on the department there were only about 20 firefighters, who received no formal training and no financial compensation. They also did not provide EMS services like the department does today.

Currently, there are 34 paid-per-call and 10 full-time crew members on the Oakdale Fire Department.

B.J. said he had more formalized training than his father had, and now Jeske’s training will be been even more detailed than when he started.

“We know more about fire behavior, we know more about medical emergencies than we ever have, and all that rolls into how we are training people nowadays,” B.J. said. 

“The margin for error has gone to next to nothing because fires are burning faster because of the synthetics we have in homes,” he added. “Back when my dad started, it was all natural fiber stuff.” B.J. compared a couch that used to be stuffed with wool to a modern couch stuffed with synthetic fill, a petroleum product, which burns like gasoline. 

 

Changes over 50 years of firefighting

Of course, not just the training has improved over the last 50 years. Technology has changed too.

According to Jungmann, when he began his career the firefighters had one fire station and minimal gear to help them cover the northern half of modern-day Oakdale.

They had two firetrucks, which, like most of the department’s equipment, were hand-me-downs from other departments, such as the Gladstone Fire Department in what is now Maplewood. 

“It was tough because we didn’t have any money when we started,” Jungmann said.

Although there were about 20 firefighters, there were only five or six sets of gear, which were not fitted to any specific person and were used by the first firefighters to arrive at the department for an emergency. The others fought the fires in whatever clothes they arrived in. 

“We had a helmet and a rubber coat,” Jungmann said, adding that because they had no air packs, firefighters just had to hold their breath and “come running out when you can’t breathe.”

Today, firefighters are alerted to emergencies through pagers and cell phones, but when Jungmann was on the fire department, the dispatch center used a direct dial number to reach firefighters on their home phones, which would have a special ring for fire calls. 

B.J. pointed out that if firefighters didn’t hear their phones ring, they didn’t know there was a fire.

 

Women in the field

One thing that has not changed over much of the Oakdale department’s history is the ability for women to become firefighters. 

Jeske noted that she is not the only woman in the department and that her male coworkers have been respectful and have welcomed her into the brotherhood of the department as they would have with any other firefighter.

“I think throughout the years of seeing Oakdale, they have been very willing to have women on the fire department, which I really respect,” Jeske said. 

The department’s first female firefighter was hired in 1981, and B.J. and Jungmann both served alongside women and agreed that the mentality of the department seems to be that as long as every firefighter can do the job and stay focused on the mission of the organization, it doesn’t matter what gender anyone is or what background he or she has.

 

A family that understands 

Both Jeske and B.J. said their extended family is very supportive of their firefighting careers, even when it cuts into family time. 

“It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, and we all kind of learn that lifestyle because you’re always carrying a pager, you’re always on call, you’re always available to help people, and it’s pretty cool when your entire family has bought in on that,” said B.J.

Jeske explained that if her mom is worried about where she is, she knows to look for her car at the fire station, and if Jeske’s pager were to go off at a Christmas Eve party, her family members would make sure she has everything she needs so she can go do her job, and they would even hold off on activities as long as they could until she came back.

“Most people would reject the idea of carrying around a pager and leaving a family event for a call, but that’s just what we’ve always known since my dad got in. So it’s pretty neat that the whole family understands the dynamic of that,” B.J. added.

 

A second family you can count on

Jungmann said he joined the fire department because he likes to help people and he had friends on the department who encouraged him to join. He added that once he was a part of the department, he made even more friends and “had a lot of good times with people.”

Although there have been many changes since Jungmann began his service, he, Jeske and B.J. agree that the department’s firefighters are now and have always been a second family.

Jeske said she likes that the department operates as a team, and although firefighters have to make choices individually, the team is there to make sure nothing is forgotten or overlooked, and to make sure they all stay safe.

“I think that comradery and that family aspect helps you in responding to the emergency,” B.J. said, adding, “You can’t have a lack of trust when you get into a situation where you need that teamwork.”

When someone needs help moving or putting a new roof on a house, the fire department friends are the ones who show up on time and actually help get the work done, B.J. said, adding with a laugh that sometimes half the fire department shows up.

 

Growing up in a firefighting community

B.J. explained that because of his dad’s involvement in the department, he grew up already a part of the firefighting community. In the department’s early days it did not get any tax money to support the service, so there were many dances, fundraisers and get-togethers with the firefighters and their families. 

Even when community events weren’t going on, B.J. said he was always down at the fire department.

“I remember, the year my dad was an assistant chief, riding along in the chief’s car with him going to calls, and, you know, I’d come down and watch training,” B.J. said, adding that even when his dad wasn’t at the station he would just hang out there, and it was these early experiences that effected his eventual career choice.

Jungmann and B.J. worked out of the same station for six years, five of them while B.J. was an Explorer. They both agreed that it was a fun experience to work side-by-side, one that allowed them to bond in a different way than most fathers and sons might.

“It was fun because my dad got to teach me how to drive a fire truck and how to pump the firetruck and all that kind of stuff,” B.J. said. “It was pretty cool to have your dad teach you something like that. More than just life skills, it’s a professional skill that I can carry through my career.”

Jeske said she felt that she also grew up in the fire service community, though in a different way than her uncle experienced.

Like B.J., she attended numerous fire department events and family events that exposed her to the job from an early age, but she said that seeing an Explorers competition at the State Fair was what really got her to see what being a part of a fire department is all about, and by the time she was in kindergarten she already knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Jeske said she fell in love with firefighting because she wanted to stay in her hometown and help the people that are around her in the community every day.

B.J. added, “We’ve all been invested in this community for a long time, and it’s pretty cool to see that tradition carried on and that legacy carried on.”

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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