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Firefighter of the Year praises entire department for hard work

Larry Peterson received the Ellsworth Fire Department 2017 Firefighter of the Year. He is a second generation firefighter and started on the department in 1971 when his dad was fire chief; now his son serves on the department with him. Sara Tischauser / RiverTown Multimedia

Ellsworth Fire Department recently recognized one of their long serving firefighters for his commitment to the department by awarding him 2017 Firefighter of the Year.

Larry Peterson has been with the Ellsworth Fire Department since 1971 and joined the department when his dad was fire chief, making him a second generation firefighter. Now, Peterson's son has become the third generation firefighter in the family.

Peterson, while appreciative of the award, believes many were deserving of the honor.

"I always thought firefighter of the year should go to all firefighters and [their] families," Peterson said.

Serving the community and surrounding areas is something Peterson said all fire department volunteers are dedicated to. Peterson said they service eight townships and part of another two townships. In addition, he said the department may also have mutual aid service agreements with surrounding areas.

Peterson just retired from his full time job where he did road maintenance for the town of El Paso. Prior to that he worked for a livestock trucking company. He believes his trucking business helped him develop a great relationship with surrounding town board chairmen, which carried over to the fire department.

Since volunteers on the fire department have a variety of full time jobs, Peterson said they are fortunate to have so much expertise in their group.

"Our group is from every occupation," Peterson said. "Helps the department out when it comes to maintenance. We can fix anything."

One of the biggest changes Peterson noted about his years in the department is the amount of trucks they now have to better service the community. He said when he started they only had four trucks; now the arsenal totals four engines, one ladder truck, five water trucks, one rescue truck, four brush trucks and one chief vehicle. In addition, they also have five antique pieces they maintain for parades and events.

Throughout the years, Peterson said the fire department has had to adapt to ever-changing ways of responding to a fire. He said now they need to be prepared to deal with many unknown chemicals.

"Railroad goes through, don't know what's on any of them," Peterson said about potential spills or fires associated with chemicals being carried by railroad cars.

He also said because vehicles have changed so much it has changed how they have to respond.

"Cars are built lighter," Peterson said. "Now we have to cut cars to get a person out."

He said another worry with vehicles is possibly deploying an airbag that didn't originally go off and making sure they (the firefighters) and also the person they are trying to get out of vehicle are not injured from a late deploying airbag.

But even with all of these changes, Peterson still enjoys working on the fire department and is proud of the people with which he serves.

"They are all a great bunch of guys, kind of like family," Peterson said. "Everyone is here for same reason because they want to be."