Jill Harstad has always had a burning desire to become a firefighter, and recently that passion for helping others became a reality.
Harstad, 35, grew up in Lanesboro, Minn., and graduated from Lanesboro High School in 2000. After marrying her husband, Andy and moving to Chatfield, she set her sights on becoming a firefighter with the Chatfield Fire Department.
When asked why she wanted to become a firefighter, Harstad replied, “It was just always one of those things that I wanted to do,” and she hoped someday it would happen.
“I actually applied two years ago and they called to tell me congratulations that I had got on the fire department, and I had just found out two days before that I was pregnant so I turned it down,” she comments.
Then, in 2017, the opportunity came up again and Harstad says, “I thought about it a little bit,” and states that she thought “I’m ready — I think I will do it,” as it seemed like the timing was right.
“I just decided to do it,” Harstad states and so she accepted the position and officially became a member of the Chatfield Fire Department in September 2017.
Harstad has the honorable distinction of being Chatfield’s first female firefighter, although to her and the other members of the Chatfield Fire Department, she is simply a fellow firefighter.
The experienced members of the Chatfield Fire Department are very receptive and supportive of Harstad in her new role. They are very helpful with training and answering any questions she may have, according to Harstad.
“I don’t think they treat me any differently” than any other member of the fire department, states Harstad.
Harstad has been receiving training with the Chatfield Fire Department on the first and third Mondays of each month since joining the fire department, and will continue with that training in addition to further training.
When asked how she likes the training exercises, Harstad replied, “I love it,” and she is eager to learn more.
“The first night I went out I got to be on the truck and spraying the hose and learning how the pumps and all that stuff runs,” says Harstad, adding, “it’s a lot of stuff to know,” but her goal is to take away at least one thing from each training exercise.
Harstad explains that there are a total of four new firefighters joining the Chatfield Fire Department, one per month until December, and once all four new recruits have become members they will all complete Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 training classes, which by requirement must be attended outside of the Chatfield Fire Department.
Harstad has been out on three calls since joining the fire department, which turned out to be false alarms, but when her pager went off it got her heart pumping and her adrenaline flowing.
Harstad is ready and willing to complete any training necessary in order to be ready when she responds to her first fire or vehicle accident alongside her fellow firefighters.
Working side by side with the highly experienced Chatfield Fire Department members, it is no doubt Harstad will learn a vast amount in a short period of time.
Aside from being on the Chatfield Fire Department, Harstad has a lot of irons in the fire. While attending RCTC for two years and then attending Minnesota School of Business to finish her four-year accounting degree, she simultaneously worked at a CPA firm in Rochester.
After receiving her accounting degree she began her own bookkeeping and payroll company, Harstad Bookkeeping and Payroll.
As busy as Harstad is, her priority lies with her family which includes her husband and their children Carson, 8, Camryn, 3, and Drew, 16 months. When asked how her husband and oldest child feel about her being a firefighter Harstad says they like it and are proud and supportive of her decision to become a firefighter.
The Chatfield Fire Department has been active since 1891, keeping the Chosen Valley safe, and Harstad is extremely proud to now be a part of the department.
“The mission of the Chatfield Fire Department will be to provide the citizens of Chatfield and surrounding area a highly trained and motivated department with emphasis on fire safety, fire suppression and fire safety education,” according to the City of Chatfield’s website, ci.chatfield.mn.us.
Even though Harstad has not responded to an actual fire or a crash site to this point, she already has a strong sense of how rewarding being a firefighter can be.
The photos from many previous calls on display in the fire department’s weight room have quite an impact on Harstad. Seeing the actions of her fellow firefighters and former members of the Chatfield Fire Department in the pictures gives her even more incentive to be there for her community in their time of need.
“Knowing that one day that will be me saving somebody’s life is probably the most rewarding thing,” states Harstad.
It is easy to see the dedication and the passion that Harstad has as a member of the Chatfield Fire Department, and it is with respect and pride that we, the residents of Fillmore County, are able to witness her dream of becoming a firefighter come true.