Tears and Thanks for a Kandiyohi County Firefighter Crushed to Death in Storm

June 9, 2022Carl Prine
Blomkest Ryan Leif Erickson

On May 12, 2022, Blomkest Firefighter Ryan Leif Erickson was paged to respond to a weather watch because of impending violent storms. As he was leaving his farm, winds lifted a grain bin off its foundation, and it rolled over him, crushing him to death instantly. Blomkest Fire Department photos. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

As storms swept across Minnesota’s Kandiyohi County on May 12, Blomkest Fire Department Chief Matthew Erickson was outside of radio range, so he kept driving toward town with one ear on the scanner playing out of his cell phone.

When he neared Lake Lillian, he was told to drive to his brother’s farm. He saw the flashing lights of the sheriff’s patrol vehicles and the trucks from his fellow firefighters, and he felt a flickering dread in the black of the night.

Eight days later, at the Refuge Church in Willmar, he choked back tears as he told mourners it was the “longest 100 feet I’d ever driven in my life.”

The gale blasting the prairie had lifted a mammoth grain bin off of its foundation and slammed it into firefighter Ryan Leif Erickson, crushing him to death instantly. He was 63 and had been paged to take up weather watch duties in the storm.

Ryan Erickson is one of the 50 firefighters who have died in the line of duty this year, according to the US Fire Administration. He’s also the brother of Chief Erickson. And their brother, Ross, had driven out to the farm, too. He watched firefighters put aside their emotions to try to rescue Ryan.

“The guys that loved him did what they could for him,” he told mourners at his brother’s funeral service, tears in his eyes.

Ryan Erickson had served with the Minnesota village’s fire department for 47 years. His first call was as a 16-year-old. He ran to the Blomkest station to fetch a fire extinguisher while other volunteers battled the blaze by tossing snow on it.

“He got a lot of joy and satisfaction out of helping other people,” his brother Ross said in his eulogy.

“Ryan loved people. And people loved hm back,” he added.

Ryan Leif Erickson was born on May 3, 1959, in Willmar, Minnesota, to Bob and Evie Erickson.

His official obituary described him as a “true Blomkest lifer,” the man who worked at the family business — Erickson’s Plumbing and Heating — and taught Sunday school in the Lutheran church. He designed parade floats that won blue ribbons during Blomkest Appreciation Day. He served on the East Lake Lillian Township Board and Kandiyohi Power Cooperative Board, plus nearly five decades at the fire station.

Erickson was preceded in death by his father and a grand-nephew, Eli Mattfield. He’s survived by his mother; his wife, Kelly; their two daughters, Tasha Hage and Jennifer Adkins; four grandchildren, Jackson and Westin Hage and Quinn and Leighton Adkins; his two brothers; and his sister, Dana.

He’s buried in Kandiyohi County’s Evergreen Cemetery.

“Every day in this great nation, an alarm rings,” fellow firefighter Josh Larson said during the May 20 funeral service. “And men and women — be they firemen, first responders, or police officers — answer the call. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his brothers. We’re all brothers in this fight. Goodbye, my brother.”

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Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

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