by Dennis Dalman
So many times, when St. Joseph Fire Chief Jeff Taufen sees the granite memorial bench in front of the fire department, he hopes the one name on it will be the last name to be engraved on that bench.
The name on the bench is “Andy Loso,” long-time St. Joseph firefighter and citizen activist who died Nov. 23, 2021, at age 42, of the COVID-19 virus.
It is very possible Loso, considered a front-line worker during the pandemic, caught the virus during his contacts on emergency calls. His peers consider him to have died in the line of duty.
That memorial bench, Taufen said, was designed and purchased by the fire department to honor any firefighters who die in the line of duty.
“I hope we don’t have to put any more names on that bench,” he said, adding that so far the department has been very fortunate in that no firefighters died while doing their jobs.
The bench was installed some months ago right under the flag pole at the entrance to the fire hall. After it was placed there, a small ceremonial gathering of firefighters honored the memory of Loso, along with members of his family, relatives and friends.
Loso was not only a firefighter for so many years, but he was also a very active people-oriented volunteer in the city and for his church, the St. Joseph Catholic Church. Loso was also well known as an expert Model-T automobile restorer and hobbyist.
Like so many St. Joseph residents, Taufen has many good memories of Andy Loso.
“He had that quick wit of his, a kind of sarcasm, and we’d never know what he’d come up with next,” Taufen said. “He had a great sense of humor.”
During an interview with the St. Joseph Newsleader, Taufen offered a few updates.
There are now 26 members of the department, and two new ones are about to be brought on board.
“We have been lucky so far,” Taufen said, “because in some places they’re having trouble finding firefighters. We will soon have 28 members, and 30 is the maximum we can have room for.”
The fire department is awaiting a brand-new pumper-tanker truck, now nearing completion at the manufacturing company in Wyoming, Minn. The department currently has six trucks; soon it will have seven, when the new one is delivered.
Some months ago, the department replaced its 11-year-old emergency rescue van with a new one.
“It looks like an ambulance, and we can use it for not just fire calls but for all kinds of other emergencies, like accidents,” Taufen said.
Last year was the busiest year ever for the St. Joseph Fire Department. There was a whopping grand total of 621 calls from January through December 2022.
“The city is growing,” Taufen said. “More population, more calls. More kinds of calls. Besides fires, there are accidents, medicals and all kinds of other emergencies.”
Taufen is a second-generation firefighter. His father served for many years before retiring almost 25 years ago. Jeff joined the department in 1996. Jeff and his wife Courtney’s oldest son, Jack, joined last year, but as a member of the Minnesota National Guard he had to take a sabbatical because of Guard duties and training in San Diego.
The middle Taufen son, Kyle, is a member of the Air Guard. The youngest, Aiden, 14, keeps asking his father when he, too, will be able to join the fire department.