‘30 years a good round number’

Longtime White Bear firefighter/EMT Steve Engstran worked his last shift Jan. 1. He was a lieutenant and then a captain for 10 years, from 2002 to 2012

The old-timer on the White Bear Lake Fire Department hung up his gear for the last time on New Year’s Day. “When the clock strikes midnight, I will be a retired White Bear firefighter after 30 years of service,” wrote Steve Engstran on his social media post.

Engstran intentionally signed up for the 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift hoping to see some action. Not that he wished for a fire, of course, but the White Bear native wanted to go out with an adrenaline rush. Instead, his last call as a firefighter was not spraying water on a fire but “pushing water out of the Country Inn hotel, due to a burst pipe” on Christmas Eve. 

He will miss “running into burning buildings,” Engstran admitted, but figured it was time. “Thirty years is a good, round number,” he said. Besides, he just turned 50, which was the allowable retirement age for the department, and decided one fewer job among four would free up some time.

A City Councilman serving his second term, Engstran works days at an auto parts store and is part of the Regions Hospital EMT events team. He also announces and runs the clock for White Bear high school basketball, another job he’s had for 30 years. 

Memories as a firefighter/EMT include both highlights and lowlights. One of his first calls was a classmate’s suicide, Engstran recalled. There were no big structure fires, no major catastrophes during his firefighting tenure. If he had a best memory, it’s helping people, he said.

Many of those people, he knows. Last September, for example, he was first on the scene of a neighbor in cardiac arrest. He applied CPR and probably saved her life. He helped deliver two babies, one to another neighbor across the street. 

“He has saved and comforted many people in this community experiencing difficulties,” shared Engstran’s wife, Christina, who said her husband is too modest. “There were so many calls where he knew the individual(s) and their families personally. As you can imagine, having someone familiar during a chaotic time brings comfort.” 

Will he miss the job? “More than anybody knows,” replied Engstran, adding that he “loved getting up in the middle of the night” to answer a call. 

The once all-volunteer department has changed over the years as members come and go. “It was more like a family back then,” noted Engstran. “I had 15 dads on the department and as I got older, 50 brothers and sisters. Nowadays it’s more a job than a family. Things change.” 

Normally, the city would recognize his years of firefighting service at a council meeting, but that’s on hold during the pandemic. Engstran, who calls himself the “grandpa” in the department, hopes one day there is opportunity to properly thank everyone with whom he has served. In his media post, he also thanked his “beautiful, amazing and understanding wife Christina” for her support and “knowing how much this job means to me”; his two children, Marcus and Beth, for their love and support over the years when he “missed some events or ran off early”; and, finally, his parents, Claudia and Darold Engstran. 

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