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A day in the life of... volunteer firefighters

December 1, 2012
By Zach Kukkonen ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

Editor's note: This article is part of a series looking at the day-to-day lives of local people in various professions.

PAINESDALE - Darren Niemi was hunting the afternoon of Nov. 21 when he received a phone call from fellow Adams Township Volunteer Firefighter Annette Butina.

"I'm 25 miles away and I'm in a deer blind in the middle of the woods, and Annette calls me about a structure fire," Niemi said. "It's prime time for deer, it's 5 o'clock, but what do I do? I leave."

Article Photos

Daily Mining Gazette/Zach Kukkonen
From left, Stephen Butina, Annette Butina and Darren Niemi are shown next to the Adams Township Fire Department fire truck in Painesdale. The three of them have been with the volunteer fire department for a combined 34 years.

Such is the life of the approximately 635 volunteer firefighters at 36 different departments in the Copper Country.

"We're on call 24/7," Butina, the first woman to be on the Adams Township Fire Department, said. "(But) we like our community and we like being there to help them."

The structure fire, which gutted a garage on Rocky Road in Adams Township, showed the dedication of local volunteers. Despite it being the evening before Thanksgiving Day, four departments and about 40 firefighters were on the scene. Lora Kinnunen, whose family was the victim of the fire, was awed by the response.

"It's amazing what they do and how short of a time between when we called 911 and what time they got here," Kinnunen said. "Seeing that they're volunteers and they have lives of their own ... but they care enough being here trying to save our house."

The firefighters even went above and beyond just the duty of putting out the fire, according to Kinnunen.

"My daughter had left her glasses on her nightstand - she can't see without them - and she got her glasses back," Kinnunen said. "It's just amazing what they do for us, and they don't ask for anything in return."

Niemi, Annette Butina and her husband Stephen Butina have a combined 34 years of experience on the Adams Township Fire Department. While fighting fires may be their adrenaline rush, that's not the only duty they have.

"We have weekly fire truck checks," Annette said. "We're just restarting that for the wintertime."

Training is required for every volunteer firefighter - passing Firefighter 1 is mandatory, according to Annette - and additional training is always occurring.

"There are a lot of different trainings that are available," Stephen said. "Toivola just had a meth lab training, and there is forest fire training."

One of the major events the department puts on is fire prevention day at Adams Township Schools.

"It's an all-day event," Annette said. "We smoke the hallways, and we teach the kids how to get out and stay out."

That training may actually have helped save lives at the Kinnunens' structure fire.

"A 14-year-old who had just gone through our program and who has been going through our program since she was in kindergarten heard the fire alarms, walked over to the door, felt that the door was hot, and took off upstairs," Annette said. "She woke up her 18-year-old sister and said there was a fire and we've got to get out. They saved their 18-month-old sibling who was sleeping against the wall where the structure fire occurred on the other side."

Being a part of the fire department also breeds a sort of kinship.

"We camp together, we hunt together, we golf together," Niemi said.

"We're all very close," Annette added. "It's a camaraderie you don't mess with."



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