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is to make sure their spouse or significant other is OK with them joining. "If you have a clash at

Time:2018-01-12 23:48Shoes websites Click:

Department leaves chief Behind leadership

"Due to an unforeseen event in (our) life it is with great pain and sorrow that I am writing this letter," Lee wrote in his retirement letter to his fellow firefighters and fire association members. "Kathy will need my full-time help in the coming future so because of that I would not be able to devote enough time into being chief that would be up to my own standards."

Lee spent the past 42 1/2 years with the Pillager fire department, serving as assistant fire chief for 10 years and 28 year as chief.

"This gives me great pride knowing that I was in a leader role in shaping this department into one of the best in the state," Lee wrote. "This only happened because of great teamwork by the association and department members. I feel this department has always been a leader in getting new and state-of-the-art equipment and training and delivering the best service out there to the public at a very low cost."

Lee ended his letter: "Thanks for letting me serve with and for you all."

Lee wrote his retirement letter Nov. 6 while at the hospital with his wife. Kathy Lee suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm while at the family home in Pillager. She was airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital and stayed there 45 days. Randy Lee said his wife has been recovering at home and is doing better than expected.

Lee said his wife was a part of the fire department for 40 years and served as his unofficial secretary during his years as fire chief. She helped take daily calls, took deliveries, helped with firefighting "retreats" and more.

"She was why I was able to make over 90 percent of all runs while being chief," Lee wrote in his retirement letter. "This is why I feel that time helping others now would be cheating her of time I should be helping her."

Lee said his proudest accomplishment is the number of fire calls he has responded to. Since 1989, there were a total of 4,297 fire calls and Lee made 3,915, or more than 90 percent of the calls.

Serving the residents of Pillager—a small city of 482, according to an estimate in 2016 by the U.S. Census Bureau, located 14 miles west of Brainerd/Baxter—is something Lee holds dear. Lee has lived in Pillager all his life, graduating from Pillager High School in 1974.

Lee joined the fire department after high school to give it a try. He said he had the time and back then there were no qualifications to be a firefighter or any training, like there is now.

Now firefighters have to make a percentage of the calls, conduct 40 hours of training and pass a physical test.

"It took awhile to really sink in," Lee said on when he realized his passion for firefighting. "When it clicked I said, 'I could make a career out of it.'"

Outside of firefighting, Lee owned the hardware store in town, formerly the Gambles Store and then he changed its name to Lee's Hardware. He then went to work for Hengel Construction and left 25 years ago when he decided to help his wife run a day care business, which also made him available to go on more fire calls.

Lee said his proudest accomplishments for the fire department were making sure all the equipment and training are up-to-date and starting a second fire station in Fairview Township in 2001. Pillager Fire and Rescue covers 350 square miles in the cities of Pillager and East Gull Lake and the townships of Sylvan, Fairview, Home Brook, Rosing and half of May. The fire department took over East Gull Lake in 2015.

Lee said up to 75-80 percent of the calls are medicals.

Pillager has maintained an average of 23 firefighters in the fire department. Currently there are three women: Sandie Youngblom, Cindy Eastman and Trista Hawkinson.

Youngblom has been on the Pillager Fire Department for 19 years. She said Lee and Les Fundine, the fire chief before Lee, talked her into joining the department. Youngblom said she was dating a firefighter, Tom Youngblom—who she later married—and they were scheduled to go on a date, but there was a structure fire. Sandie Youngblom told Tom to go and she would wait, as she didn't think it would take long. It took three hours.

"I was always sitting at the fire department so Randy and Les said, 'Why don't you just join?' So I did," she said. "I was the first woman on the fire department in 1998.

"Randy is my second dad. He always encouraged me to go to all the different trainings, to do everything involved in firefighting. He wants everyone to be well rounded."

Youngblom always looked up to Lee for his guidance, his work ethic and dedication to the fire department. She said he always took pride in the fire department to provide the best service to the community to keep people safe and "he was amazing," she said.

"He set a high precedence and his shoes will be hard to fill, but we will try. ... Randy held us to a high standard in responding to calls and we want to keep the high standard going for us and the community."

Greg Ringler succeeded Lee as fire chief. Ringler has been with the fire department for 30 1/2 years and went on many calls with Lee.

"He's been here throughout my whole career (in firefighting)," Ringler said "He will be missed by the fire department. The amount of time he put in and all of his selfless sacrifices he made to make sure the fire department was serving the community is most remarkable.

"His example in leadership is the one thing that has shown through (his years on the fire department)."

Lee said his advice to people who want be a firefighter, is to make sure their spouse or significant other is OK with them joining.

"If you have a clash at home it won't work," Lee said. "Get their blessing and explain to them that if the pager goes off they have to go at any unrecognizable time."

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