Archived Story

Honoring past sacrifice [UPDATED]

Published 11:23am Monday, October 1, 2012 Updated 11:23am Monday, October 1, 2012

Dan Ness never knew his grandfather, but in many ways, he’s followed in his footsteps. Today, he is taking part in a ceremony that will honor the memory of his grandfather, as well as more than 200 other Minnesotan firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

Ness, a Fergus Falls High School graduate who now lives in Prescott Valley, Ariz., is named for his grandfather, also known as Dan. The first Dan Ness died on June 25, 1953 while fighting a fire at the Elk River Concrete plant, near the old Northern Pacific railroad station in Fergus Falls.

The fire started in the early morning hours. Firefighters believed a furnace issue or a lightning strike may have been the cause. Around 3:30 a.m., Ness, 64, warned a driver who had driven his car over a fire hose. He collapsed shortly thereafter, suffering a heart attack. Attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

An immigrant from Norway at a young age, Ness was the oldest firefighter in the department and had been set to retire from his job as a city water plant operator on July 4, which would have been his 65th birthday.

The younger Ness was born in 1957, four years after his grandfather died. However, he heard plenty of stories about the man and said everyone knew him as a friendly person and an avid outdoorsman.

“He was a very well respected and liked man, busy in the community,” said the younger Ness.

The Daily Journal reported in 1953 that Ness was the first Fergus Falls firefighter to die in the line of duty, and there have not been any line of duty deaths since then, according to current Fire Chief Mark Hovland.

However, for one reason or another, the elder Ness was never listed as dying in the line of duty in state records – at least, not until recently.

For years a fixture in the Minneapolis airport, the state’s Fallen Firefighters Memorial was recently moved to the State Capitol grounds. Today, the state is holding a memorial dedication and a commemoration of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice as a Minnesotan firefighter.

“I’m on the board for the Minnesota State Fire Chiefs Association, so I was aware of the project from the beginning,” said Hovland.

A few years ago, the younger Ness had visited with Hovland and shown him old newspaper clippings about his grandfather’s death, but when Hovland looked for Ness’ name on the list of the fallen, he realized it wasn’t there. He sent the information into the memorial committee, and Ness’ name will now be included on the memorial.

Since the younger Ness is related to a fallen firefighter, he and other relatives were invited to the dedication. The dedication will include a reading of the names of every firefighter honored by the memorial, and the firefighters’ families will receive a Minnesota state flag that has flown above the Capitol.

“Mr. Hovland gave me a call probably on the 18th (of September), so I just found out about it,” said the younger Ness. He said he very much appreciates Hovland’s efforts to honor his grandfather’s service.

The dedication will carry special significance for the younger Ness and his son, Nick. Ness is a full-time firefighter with the Central Yavapai Fire District in Arizona, and Nick is a firefighter in Forks, Wash.

“It must be in the gene pool somehow,” Ness said with a laugh.

Ness has kept fighting fires (and working in EMS) over the years because it’s challenging work that forces him to think on his feet. However, he’s glad to have a moment to reflect and give thanks for the family firefighter who preceded him almost 60 years ago.

“It’s a pretty neat thing to come up there and receive that honor,” he said. “People forget, and if the history isn’t there, then it goes away.”

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