Oakdale firefighter offers familiar face to her neighbors

By day, Heidi Barron helps people stay healthy.

And by night, she saves their lives.

The long-time Oakdale resident spends her days at the HealthEast Oakdale Clinic where she works as a certified medical assistant in the clinic lab.

Four years ago, she added another job to her list: Oakdale firefighter. During her time away from the clinic, she can often be found at one of Oakdale’s two fire stations going through grueling training exercises, attending classes or stocking the trucks with supplies.

She also serves on a handful of committees within the fire department and acts as an advisor for the Explorer program, which gives kids ages 14 to 18 a taste of what it’s like to be a firefighter.

It’s a busy life, and she does it all for the people in her community.

“Everyone has a role,” she says. “I’m here to help people, to be there when they need assistance.”

“She knows (the patients) by name,” says HealthEast physician Dr. Andy Hanson. “She has these personal relationships with them; she makes them feel like they’re No. 1 in her life.

“She wants to make sure that patients receive the best possible care,” he adds. “She’s the perfect example of customer service. She is the foundation of what the clinic strives to be.”

Barron’s caring attitude has crossed over into her work as a firefighter, according to Deputy Chief Kevin Wold.

“The fact she works in a clinic during the day carries over to the fire department in the evening,” he explains. “She’s very friendly and she gets along with everybody. She’s dedicated to the fire department, and she’s been great. We just couldn’t ask for more.”

That personal touch is a particular asset, considering a majority of the fire department’s calls are either medical in nature or rescue calls such as car crashes.

Barron’s first emergency call came within minutes of her very first shift.

“All I knew,” she remembers, “was ‘carry the red bag’ (which holds emergency medical supplies) and ‘carry the green bag’ (which carries oxygen equipment).”

Barron’s crew responded to a medical call from someone having a diabetic reaction. As Barron was walking into the victim’s house, a neighbor recognized her and came running out to greet her. Barron remembers the woman telling her, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Originally from Wisconsin, Heidi has lived in Oakdale for seven years and seems perfectly comfortable here.

“I know a lot of people,” she explains. “They’re always happy to see me; it’s a familiar face.”

It is actually Barron’s clinic job that helped her land the other. Four years ago, she was talking to a firefighter whose blood she was drawing at the clinic. He mentioned the fire department had vacancies and urged her to apply.

Oakdale’s firefighters also provide emergency medical service to the community, and their training requires courses in EMT training, extensive firefighting knowledge, hazardous materials training and training in IV therapy.

And Barron was afraid to take the required EMT test.

“It was really scary,” she says. “It was the fear of the unknown. I didn’t know if I could actually do it.”

She did it. In fact, to face her fears, she enrolled in an EMT course through Century College before becoming a firefighter.

“That opened the door for more opportunities,” she says.

She earned all of her classroom training for the fire department within a year and a half of joining the organization.

All firefighters seem to have one thing in common: they all love a good adrenaline rush. Barron is no exception. “You see that fire and you’ve got the hose in your hand,” she grins, “and you’re saying, ‘Watch out, I’m coming to get you.

“It’s hot,” she says, “but you have protective gear. And you have the other firefighters.”

When the fires are out, the members of the department remain a tight-knit family. “There’s a camaraderie there,” Barron explains. “They’ve been there for guidance and support.”

That family supported her after a particularly devastating call early in her career. She was the first to respond to an accident that killed a young boy several years ago. She knew the boy and was able to hold his hand and tell him they were there to help. Tragically, the child did not survive the accident.

That one hit too close to home for Barron.

“Nothing will be worse than what I saw that day,” she believes.

After the tragedy, her colleagues reached out to her, further cementing a bond that still exists today. “In my heart, they are my family,” Barron explains. “Like family, I can count on every member of this department if I get into trouble, they can rely on me as much as I rely on them.”

As an individual member of the Oakdale Fire Department, Barron has excelled.

Currently, she is training to be an engineer, and was able to put her new skills to the test last month. When her crew responded to a dumpster fire, Barron was in charge of pumping the water to those fighting the flames.

That sounds easier than it is. Her duties during that call included setting and maintaining the water pressure and operating a complicated instrument panel while keeping an eye on foam and water levels and pressure gauges. During all this, she maintained ongoing communication with the other firefighters on the scene.

Perhaps the best part of that call, however, was driving the truck; Barron was behind the wheel for the Code 3 (lights and sirens) call.

That’s one of the perks of being an engineer in training.

Smiling, she says, “It’s all about the truck.”

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