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Keith Farnam and his wife Agnes listen as family and friends honor Keith's years on the Pine River Fire Department. Photo by Travis Grimler

Farnam retires after 40 years with Pine River Fire Department

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A former Pine River fire chief received a grand send off at the end of his 40 years with the department.

Keith Farnam of Pine River became the first firefighter to reach the 40-year mark as a Pine River firefighter, and his family, friends and fellow firefighters gathered at his home Sunday, July 13, to share their appreciation.

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Farnam was born and raised in Pine River, and aside from 1968 and 1969, when he and his wife lived in Duluth, he has almost always been in Pine River.

"I never left very far for very long," Farnam said.

He was virtually born into the fire department. Farnam's father was a member of the department, and Farnam wasn't very old when he joined in June of 1974, at age 24.

"My father was a 20-year member of the Pine River Fire Department. That was an inspiring aspect of deciding to join. And being young. I was 24 years old and looking for a little action and community involvement," Farnam said.

During his active years with the department, Farnam said the high point was the entry and fighting the fire, but his absolute favorite time was while he was chief.

"It was probably the best 13 years of the 40. I got to meet a lot of different people and other fire chiefs and we went to conferences and schools and stuff. You built a network. It's like they say, it's a brotherhood," Farnam said.

Farnam particularly enjoyed the annual Fire Chiefs Conference where he was able to network with professionals from all over and learn from their combined experience. He recommends the conferences to all fire chiefs.

Of course, firefighting was not always fun.

"During my time we've seen deaths and families lose everything. It's a state of shock and you do your job the best you can, but you can't bring back what they lost. There were some tough losses for people," Farnam said. "When the bowling alley burned they lost a home and they lost a business, and even though you go in there and do your job and get out, clean up and pick up, they are still left with all that and there are times that kind of gets forgotten."

Farnam said good health and family support were key to his 40 years.

"I stayed 40 years because of good health, a good family support system, and my wife was always there. Good health was the main thing," Farnam said.

Farnam was so appreciative, that during his retirement when he was receiving plaques, quilts, his old fire gear, a St. Paul fire hydrant and touching speeches, he gave a gift to his wife, Agnes. He said it was for putting up with 40 years of late night fire calls and all the other inconveniences and stresses that go with being a firefighter.

Farnam said he is leaving the department at a high point.

"It's time. The department is in good hands. I still feel as healthy as I ever did. Physically and mentally I could go another however many years, but it's time and I know it's time. Forty is a good round number, but it only seems like 20. Anyway, it's been a good ride. It's been wonderful, and you can see all the kids, my kids, the wife and grandkids. They put this all together and they're still supporting me in the end. When you have an entourage like that, what more can you say. They're just the greatest," Farnam said.

His daughters, Catherine and Jackie, gave him a quilt made from firefighter T-shirts. Current fire chief Kevin Kleiner gave him a plaque. And he received a certificate of excellence from Minnesota State Fire Marshal Bruce West on behalf of Commissioner of Public Safety Mona Dohman. Kleiner also gave a proclamation on behalf of the city declaring July 21 as Keith Farnam Day.

"Keith always took tasks head on, whether it was a budget issue, a personnel issue or sweeping out a truck bay. He did it to the best of his ability," Kleiner said. "He was old school in the fact that he always respected those who came before him and always knew in the fire service that an old dog can learn new tricks."

"To serve the Pine River community for 40 years is quite a feat. I take my hat off for that. I'm proud to be here today to take in this great event," West said.

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