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Former Woodbury firefighter is Minnesota fire marshal

Jerry Rosendahl, Minnesota's state fire marshal, sits in his office in St. Paul. The Hastings resident started his career with the Woodbury Fire Department. Staff photo by Keith Grauman

Imagine taking over the state office responsible for managing emergencies, the day after one of the biggest emergencies in the history of the United States.

That was the reality of Sept. 12, 2001 for former Woodbury firefighter Jerry Rosendahl, who became the director of the Minnesota Division of Emergency Management the day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, Rosendahl, also a former assistant fire chief and fire marshal at the Hastings Fire Department, is the Minnesota state fire marshal and director of pipeline safety.

As state fire marshal, Rosendahl oversees 65 people and is responsible for a $6.2 million budget.

He serves as the lead person testifying in the state legislature on policy and budget issues that pertain to the fire service. He works on outreach programs and develops and maintains good relationships with various fire-related organizations in the state.

There are two main departments within the fire marshal's office: inspections and investigations.

Rosendahl said the office is best known for the investigative side, wherein investigators are called by local fire departments to help with investigations into fires. The office investigates all fatal fires and those where arson is suspected.

The inspection side of the department is lesser known. Rosendahl's office inspects healthcare facilities, public and charter schools, daycares and motels, and more, to make sure those businesses are adhering to fire codes.

As the director of pipeline safety, Rosendahl oversees inspections, and when needed, investigations, into the state's 65,000 miles of pipelines that carry substances like natural gas, crude oil, propane and other hazardous materials.



Rosendahl was not one of those kids who grew up wanting to be a firefighter. His career in the fire service started in Woodbury in 1974.

The Woodbury Fire Department was an all-volunteer force back then, and one-day firefighters were practicing their techniques on an old house someone had donated to the department.

Rosendahl saw the training going on and hung around to watch. The chief running the training noticed Rosendahl, and knowing the signs of a potential new recruit, approached him about joining the department. A few months later, Rosendahl was a member of the Woodbury Fire Department.

"When you get the bug, it really gets you," he said.

At that time, Rosendahl was working at 3M, and he got a portable scanner he brought with him to work. He said 3M was good about letting him leave work on a moment's notice when calls came in. He'd first report to the fire station and then respond to calls in emergency vehicles.

From 1974 to 1981, Rosendahl was heavily involved in the Woodbury Fire Department and worked his way up to being an officer.

"I decided somewhere in that seven-year time span that it'd be really cool to get into this (being a firefighter) full time," he said.

In 1981, the assistant fire chief and fire marshal job opened up in Hastings. He got the job that May.

In Hastings, he oversaw trainings, various operations and inspections. The job in Hastings also opened him up to more variety, as he got more involved in the emergency medical technician-side of the job, responding to not only fire calls and vehicle accidents, but medical calls as well.

Don Latch was fire chief during Rosendahl's stint on the Hastings Fire Department. Rosendahl saw the work Latch did as fire chief and decided he'd like to take a crack at that if the chance ever came about.

In November 1987, Rosendahl got that chance when the top spot at the Owatonna Fire Department opened up. He left Hastings when he got the job and worked and lived in Owatonna until 2001.

While in Owatonna, Rosendahl also served as the emergency management director for the city and Steele County.

The experience he gained in that role led him to what was supposed to be a temporary position as an emergency mitigation planner with the state in January 2001, but ended up leading to much more than that.

In mid-2001, the director of the Minnesota Division of Emergency Management left his post. There was an interim director assigned to the job, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001, put the position in the spotlight, and on Sept. 12, the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety recruited Rosendahl for the job.

Being thrown into a new position during such a tumultuous time was difficult, but Rosendahl worked for the next several years updating the state's emergency management plan, making sure it was adhered to, and making sure it meshed with plans cities and counties had adopted.

In June 2003, the position of state fire marshal became vacant, and because of his background in the fire service, Rosendahl was approached again by the commissioner of public safety about the job.

He acted as state fire marshal and emergency management director until October 2003, when the state hired an emergency management director to take over, and he was able to concentrate on the fire marshal and pipeline safety offices exclusively.

Rosendahl and his wife moved to Hastings for the second time in 2007. He said he likes the city's commitment to public safety and the proximity of Hastings to St. Paul, where he works.

"I love the combination of being close, but outside of that ring of the metro," he said.