Pulling double duty

Hopfer, Hemmesch farm, serve as volunteer firemen

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LAKE HENRY, Minn. — Young dairy farmers Nick Hemmesch and Sam Hopfer have a lot in common.

Both farm in the southern part of Stearns County. They also farm with family; Hopfer with his uncle, Tom, and Hemmesch with his parents, Randy and Debbie.

Perhaps the most unique similarity between the two comes from time spent away from the farm.

They are volunteer firefighters on the Lake Henry Fire Department and have lockers stationed next to each other.

Hopfer joined the department in 2019.

“I graduated high school and had some free time, and I always considered it growing up,” Hopfer said. “The main thing that started it was when our barn burnt up in 2015. I thought it would be good to give back to the community.”

Hemmesch has served on the department for one decade.

“I wanted to join because all my buddies were there,” Hemmesch said. “It’s kind of like having another family. If you can’t rely on the guy right behind you, you probably shouldn’t be there.”

Hopfer had been intrigued with the notion of being a firefighter since his youth.

“When I was a kid, I always had my own fireman outfit,” the 24-year-old said. “When I played with my sisters, I would always be the fireman.”

Hopfer saw firsthand the unity and importance of the department during the fire that took their 52-cow tiestall barn. Four departments arrived on scene in a time of need and battled the blaze for several hours.

“Watching about 50 guys all work together on one task, I thought was pretty cool,” Hopfer said.

31-year-old Hemmesch milks 88 cows with his parents. Their farm’s location flanks the fire hall on its north and east.

“I am very fortunate we have two or three people milking cows, so I can just tell them I have a fire call and have to go, and they can either finish or I will help out when I’m done,” Hemmesch said.

Before joining the fire department, both men had to put in many hours of training, including emergency medical responder, CPR and firefighting.

“When I first started going through the training, I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this, but once I did get all my training done, from there it was pretty simple,” Hopfer said. 

The department offers yearly courses to stay up to date on training, Hopfer said.

“The firefighting was a lot of physical things,” Hopfer said. “It helps to be in shape for that. Farming does help out, like climbing silos and stuff.”

After the training phase, the department’s continual learning involves a monthly meeting and drill. Although both would like to make every call and meeting, the daily unpredictability of farming prevents that, especially for Hemmesch, who also does hauling with a semi.

“Sometimes I can be down by Mankato or up by Fergus Falls when I get a call and have to say I’m not going to make it, but if it’s still going on when I get home, I show up late,” Hemmesch said. “A great part of being with this department is that they know my background and where I’m coming from.”

Since joining the department, which celebrated 100 years of existence in 2023, the pair of dairy farmers have responded to a variety of calls, from garage, grass and building fires to car accidents and other emergency calls.

“It’s a good feeling to know that I’m helping,” Hopfer said. “The worst thing about being on the department where you live and know everyone is that when we go to a call, normally, we know the person.”

Hemmesch agreed.

“The biggest thing is probably car accidents,” he said. “You show up on people’s worst days, and you get to try and make it better. They don’t know where they are or what happened most of the time. We get to try and form some clarity for them.”

Though they are both young firefighters on the 24-member team, they are ready to contribute to the immediate task when the pager goes off.

“It’s definitely an adrenalin rush most of the time, especially if it is a fire,” Hopfer said. “You always have to prepare for the worst right away. You get to the hall, put your stuff on, hop in the truck and go.”

Hemmesch said that as soon as he hears the description of the call, his mind instantly goes into motion.

“You are planning what you are going to be doing before you are even told,” Hemmesch said.

The Hopfer and Hemmesch family names are not new to the department. Hopfer’s grandfather, Art, and Hemmesch’s father are former members.

“If I wouldn’t be able to help people, then it would be useless,” Hopfer said.

And, that is just one more similarity between these two dairy farmers and firemen.

“I really like to help the community I am involved in,” Hemmesch said. “A neighbor is never too far away.”

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