Department veteran lost in car accident last Thursday
John R. Larson, a nine-year veteran of Scandia Fire and Rescue, died Thursday, Feb. 28, following a vehicle collision in Lake Elmo. The father of three was a rescue training captain with the fire department.
Larson, 42, was returning from work in Eagan when the accident took place just after 6 a.m. at the intersection of Highway 36 and Manning Avenue. On a green arrow, Larson was turning left to go north on Manning when his Saturn was broadsided by a Dodge van driven by Kenneth A. Tougaw of Bayport, according to the Minnesota State Patrol’s accident report. The van was headed west on Highway 36. Both drivers were the only occupants in their vehicles.
Larson was transported to Region’s Hospital in St. Paul, where he passed away. Tougaw, 40, suffered minor injuries.
Larson leaves behind his wife, Paula; a daughter who attends junior high in Forest Lake; and a step-son and step-daughter, both adults.
Members of the department who gathered at the fire station Thursday afternoon described Larson as a fireman through and through.
“He actually moved into Scandia and joined the fire department very close to the same day,” said Assistant Chief Bill Havener. “He completed his EMT studies prior to moving to the town in anticipation of one day living here and joining the fire department.”
Larson willingly took on additional duties, particularly as rescue training officer. He spent significant time in that role guiding the community through a recent switch in ambulance services.
“When you merge services together, it causes some change sometimes, and everybody’s not sure where change is going to go,” said Chief Jim Finnegan. “He was a player on the field to make sure the transition was very smooth for everybody, and that’s important.”
Larson’s dedication also showed through in his availability to fire calls. His night-shift job with USPS made him available to respond to fire calls in the day, but it also meant sacrifice.
“He may have only been home a lot of times sleeping an hour or two and we’d get called out, and he would always make sure he got up for those calls,” Havener said.
Finnegan, Havener and fireman Chris Majeski were at the hospital during Larson’s final hours. The department’s focus now will be on helping his family.
“We have 24 members still on this department that have a commitment to this community, that we will respond and take care of this community and any emergency needs, but we also have a commitment to the Larson family to address any of their needs, for a long ways down the line,” Finnegan said. “They’re part of this department for a long time.”
The department is in uncharted waters: It is only the second time an active fireman has passed away, and the first due to an accident, members said.
“Definitely, it is a huge void in this department,” Finnegan said. “We’re a tight-knit bunch. We look out for each other, there’s no other way to describe it. We lost one of our own today.”
The department planned to meet Friday night.
“There’s some heavy hearts right now out here,” Finnegan said. “We’ve got to get through the next couple days, [learn] what the family’s wishes are, just take care of the arrangements for John, and then from there as a department, we just have to pull ourselves together and move forward.”
A gathering of family and friends was held from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6 at Roberts Family Funeral Home, 555 Centennial Dr. SW, Forest Lake.
A celebration of Larson’s life with full firefighter funeral honors will be held at 11 a.m. today, March 7 at Elim Lutheran Church, 20971 Olinda Trail N., Scandia, with a gathering beginning at 10 a.m. Interment will be at Rutherford Cemetery.