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Area firefighters lose a friend

Moorhead firefighter Gary Larsen was struggling to save his flood-threatened home in 1997 when his boss, Marty Soeth, drove up to help fill sandbags.

Moorhead firefighter Gary Larsen was struggling to save his flood-threatened home in 1997 when his boss, Marty Soeth, drove up to help fill sandbags.

Soeth, then a deputy fire chief, came straight from work and was still in his dress whites.

"There was really no separation between family and Fire Department," Larsen said, remembering the retired Moorhead fire chief who died Wednesday morning at his Moorhead home at the age of 67.

Police said Soeth died of natural causes.

A 42-year veteran of the Fire Department, Soeth served a little more than five of those years as chief before retiring in January 2004.


Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland on Wednesday described Soeth as a leader devoted to creating a ready and capable department.

"He believed in training. I really think he brought our fire force into a really new and high standard of professionalism," Voxland said.

Soeth, who worked years beyond the age he could have officially retired, impressed Voxland with his dedication.

"It always amazed me," Voxland said. "He worked on past when he could have retired because he felt he owed it to the city to finish up a couple more projects."

When Soeth retired, Fargo Fire Chief Bruce Hoover said his Moorhead counterpart played a large role in forging closer ties between the two departments.

Assistant Fargo Fire Chief Steve Balstad echoed that praise Wednesday.

"He was a good friend of the Fire Department here in Fargo," Balstad said, adding Soeth was his emergency medical technician instructor 27 years ago when Balstad started out as a firefighter.

Soeth's son, Lee, who followed in his father's footsteps and became a firefighter, said Wednesday he's always had big shoes to fill.


A 10-year veteran with the Fargo Fire Department, Lee Soeth said his father never pressured him to take up the same line of work.

Instead, it was his example that sold the younger Soeth on his career choice.

"I just saw over the years how much he enjoyed it and how close-knit a family it was with the firefighters," Lee Soeth said, adding the job gets in one's blood.

"That's a lifestyle for us," he said.

In 1962, the elder Soeth was working at the Moorhead Parks Department and attending school to become an electrician when a position opened with the Fire Department.

The chief offered him a job, and by 1984 Soeth was promoted to lieutenant in charge of training. Two years later he was made captain.

In 1992, then Fire Chief Gary Schulz promoted Soeth to deputy chief.

Soeth was appointed chief in 1998, replacing Schultz, who retired.


In an interview shortly before his own retirement, Soeth talked about how building safety had improved over the years and how that meant fewer fires to fight.

But, Soeth said, there are always things to keep firefighters busy, like the time he dismantled a pool table to free a man whose arm was trapped in a pocket.

And there was the bleeding Labrador that somehow got stuck underneath a dryer.

"When people are in trouble for a lot of different things, the Fire Department is the one they're going to call for help," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com.
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