Sometimes heroes are in our midst and we don’t even know it. They are standing next to us in the grocery checkout line as we pick up our dinner fixin’s, sitting next to us in the theater while we watch the latest blockbuster, or cheering beside us as we root for our favorite team.
Much like the mild-mannered Clark Kent, who darts into that iconic phone booth and in an instant pops out all superhero-bedecked and ready to take on the world, our own local, undercover heroes perform their own transformation. Of course, they don’t rush into phone booths, but they do, at the beckon of a pager they carry with them pretty much at all times, drop what they’re doing (literally, whatever they’re doing), and answer the call.
Linda Bauer is one of those folks. She’s a mom, a business owner, a church-going gal, and a firefighter. And she’s proven her mettle many times since she first, rather unexpectedly, became a Maple Grove firefighter in 2005.
“Literally, I was driving my kids to school one morning, and I saw this sign up in front of the station stating they were looking for day responders,” says Linda, “and I pulled in the parking lot, wrote the number down and called. Chief Anderson answered and I said, ‘look, this is a long shot because I’m five-feet-five-inches and rather small, and I can’t carry people down ladders, but I’m self-employed and available during the day.’ He told me there were many jobs on the department for smaller-statured people, areas that the bigger guys couldn’t get into, and he said I should come on in.”
So that’s what she did.
A few weeks after pulling into the parking lot, after background checks and medical and psychological testing, she started her four-month course at Hennepin Technical College, which included firefighter 1 and firefighter 2 training; that was January 2005. Later in the year, she completed first responder and Hazmat training and certification.
Her first call was nerve-wracking and Linda reveals that for the first six months she thought a lot about the mental switch, that shifting of realities from being at one moment home making dinner for her two sons (Grant and Drew, now eighteen and sixteen years old, respectively) or in the shower, or in the dentist’s chair, and six or seven minutes later being face-to-face with a life-threatening situation.
“That took a bit of time for me,” she says, “but now I don’t even think about it. I just go about my life.”
This is exactly what she was doing two years ago when she came up-close-and-personal with her own life-threatening situation.
“It was a house fire and I was on the nozzle with my crew behind me,” says Linda. “The house was so thick with smoke that you could not see your hand in front of you. We couldn’t find the fire, we looked upstairs, downstairs, and one of the guys had a thermal imager. Suddenly, we heard a big crash, but we didn’t know the direction it was coming from. I then saw flames really low in a room and started advancing to that room, when I felt this pull from behind; it was one of the guys pulling me back by my coat, and then he said, ‘Don’t go in there, the floor just collapsed.’ The dining room table had gone through the floor and what I saw were the flames that were coming up from the basement. I didn’t realize until later how close that one really was.”
Undaunted, Bauer keeps at it. As a paid, on-call firefighter for Maple Grove (the majority of Twin Cities suburban fire departments are run this way), she can sign out of being on-call for up to 55 hours per week, but she usually doesn’t sign out at all.
“I’m pretty much on all the time,” she says, with a laugh. “There is absolutely no rhyme or reason as to when the calls will come in, though. We can go a few weeks without a call, and then have three in one day; you just can’t predict.”
Fire chief, Scott Anderson, who has been in his position since 1990 and with the department since 1978, has nothing but praise for this mom/firefighter.
“Linda is a calm, practical, easy going person,” Anderson says. “I have observed Linda aggressively carrying out firefighter duties including working on ladders, carrying fire hoses into burning buildings and other tasks.”
But this undercover hero has another job: she owns her own company, Last Call Production, where she designs and engineers point-of-purchase displays for large and small breweries. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design from the University of Illinois, her disparate activities are actually a perfect fit.
“All of my customers know I’m a firefighter,” she says, “so if they can’t get a hold of me for a couple hours, they know I’m probably busy with something related to that. And I think only a few times have I had to leave a conference of customer call to head to the station.”
There are perks to Bauer’s job: she stays in excellent physical condition (“you can’t afford to get weak,” she says), she isn’t tethered to a desk and a 9-to-5 routine (“that would drive me crazy,” she says), and, she’s found a real passion. “It is the greatest thing I accidentally discovered that I love,” she says.
And, the camaraderie, the friendships, the family she’s created with the other firefighters, is a much-loved benefit.
“But one of the greatest things that is a byproduct of the job, is that it takes me out of my daily routine, out of my own little bubble of worries and stress,” she says. “It gives me a rapid reality check and perspective, and makes me realize how good I have it. I may have left angry or frustrated, and I come home with a completely different point of view. I’ve got my kids, I’ve got my house, I’ve got everything. I really didn’t expect that, but I’m so glad that it’s there.”
Last updated by jhanson : 2015-02-21 14:29:52