Scholarship gives firefighters new ways to save lives

Don Axtman, son of Kay Hermann, posed with South Metro Fire Chief Mike Pott during a $25,000 donation to the department. (submitted photo)

Thanks to the family of former West St. Paul Firefighter Charlie Hermann, the South Metro Fire Department will have a better chance of saving lives from both fire and water.

Hermann, now deceased, served on the West St. Paul Fire Department from May 1953 to April 1977, but his legacy in the department will be remembered well into the future thanks to his $25,000 bequeathment.

According to Don Axtman, son of Charlie’s wife, Kay, Charlie was adamant the $25,000 donation should benefit the firefighters who comprise the department. In keeping with his wishes, department administrators decided to divide the donation into ten scholarships of $2,500 that firefighters can apply for on a yearly basis.

“We thought it would be better to divide the money and use it for training or education instead of a one­time purchase,” said Assistant Fire Chief Mark Erickson.

Water rescues on tap

The first recipient of the Charlie and Kay Hermann scholarship is Lieutenant Mike Nelson, who will be traveling to Florida to receive additional training for water rescues.

Nelson, who oversees the water rescue program for South Metro, said the additional training will be invaluable given that South St. Paul is bordered by the Mississippi River.

“This training focuses on rescues in inland waterways, flooding and swift water rescues—the kind we are more likely to see here,” Nelson said.

While the South Metro department has owned a rescue watercraft for several years, in certain water conditions it isn’t always feasible to bring the boat up next to a victim without hurting them. With this new training, Nelson will have the tools to incorporate rescue swimming into the South Metro program. In turn, he’ll be able to train other departments in the knowledge he has gained.

“These (water rescue) situations are certainly ones we address with other municipalities,” he said. “We don’t do this kind of rescues alone.”

Nelson added he is grateful to the Herrmann family for affording such opportunities to the department. “This grant from this wonderful family has certainly opened doors for us,” Nelson said. “It will help for many years to come beyond the ten-year scholarship period, because these are skills forever taught.”

The South Metro department intends to continue the Charlie and Kay Hermann scholarship after the ten-year period allowed by the initial donation by accepting personal and business donations throughout the communities they serve.

Heather Edwards can be reached at


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