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Gabrielli named Cottage Grove’s 2013 Fireman of the Year

Part-time Cottage Grove firefighter Mike Gabrielli worked more than 1,500 duty crew hours last year, service that awarded him with the city’s 2013 Fireman of the Year honor. (Bulletin photo by Emily Buss)

Cottage Grove resident Mike Gabrielli would not have chosen it as an occupation, but after five years as a part-time firefighter it has become a job he has dedicated most of his time performing.

The recent recipient of the 2013 Cottage Grove Fireman of the Year award, Gabrielli said his involvement in public safety is credited in part to his curious grandchildren.

“They were always talking about fire trucks and firefighters,” Gabrielli said of his grandchildren who briefly stayed with him and his wife, Mimi, several years ago. “They prodded me, along with my wife, to apply for a position.”

Several months went by before the Cottage Grove Fire Department offered Gabrielli a position.

“I honestly didn’t think my application would go anywhere,” Gabrielli admitted. “But it was the beginning of another chapter in my life.”

He went through extensive fire and EMT training preceding his employment and became well acquainted with the on-call pager, all while staying focused on his at-home machining business. His unique situation of working from home, Fire Chief Rick Redenius said, afforded the department the advantage of having another reliable body in case of emergency.

“We say he’s one of the lucky ones that has the ability to break away from the job and help out when an all-call goes out,” Redenius said. “It’s really nice for us as a department that Mike is able to do that.”

Living and working in the city he protects allowed Gabrielli to put in more than 1,500 hours on the duty crew schedule last year, hours that spanned days, nights, weekends, even holidays, Redenius said.

“It almost adds another full-time person to our crew,” Redenius said of Gabrielli’s dedication. “Right now, not only is he putting in his time he is scheduled for but he’s able to respond to station coverage pages, all calls, and be available when we are most short (staffed).”

It’s not uncommon to find Gabrielli engrossed in work out in his shop behind his Ideal Avenue home. Whether he is making a part for a license plate machine, filling an order for a jet engine testing company or working on his classic car, Gabrielli is a jack of all trades, both at home and in emergencies.

“About 95 percent of the calls I’m sent on are medical related,” Gabrielli, a certified EMT, said. “But then there are the fire calls that break up routine. It’s a whole different kind of adrenaline.”

Looking back on his five-year firefighting career, a few incidents stick out in his mind, especially arriving on the scene of a double amputation at Tennis Sanitation last year.

A worker, Gabrielli described, lost his glove in a large trash compactor and went to retrieve it when a sensor was triggered, starting the trash compacting process.

“It had actually pinched his legs,” he said. “(Fire Marshal) PJ (McMahon) was actually the first on scene and we knew that this guy’s legs were gone.”

With no time to spare, Gabrielli used his belt to create a tourniquet and assisted other emergency personnel in getting the worker out of the trash compactor.

Switching gears, he responded to a structure fire several weeks ago, where a bedroom was engulfed in flames.

“We were able to pull our lines fast and get right in there,” he said. “The rest of the house was salvaged and most of the belongings were intact.”

Ticking off other more dangerous and gruesome incidents he has encountered during his time with the department, Gabrielli said it comes with the job description.

“You have to look at it as we’re running into a situation where most people are running out,” he said. “We are helping people who, often times, are at their lowest point.”

‘His work doesn’t go unnoticed’

At the fire department’s annual appreciation dinner in January, Gabrielli was given the top honor as Fireman of the Year, an award Redenius said was well deserved.

“He’s done more than just respond to calls, he’s worked different hours, different projects and has given his time whenever he is able to,” Redenius said. “He works hard, is a good person to utilize when we have our civic events, he’s not afraid to answer questions, he’s open and genuine.

“His work does not go unnoticed.”

Firefighter/EMT Mike Dandl received an honorable mention during the January ceremony.

Not one for the limelight, Gabrielli said he was grateful to be recognized by his department, but added that it’s simply his job.

“Something as simple as washing a truck is just passing the time for me,” he said. “If it’s something that needs to be done, I do it.”

“For what Mike has done in 2013 is just huge for us,” Redenius added. “It has helped our department run smoothly and has helped us provide the best customer service we can provide.”