Maryann Koch stood bundled up against the cold wind at the corner of Pioneer Trail and Bennett Place, patiently waiting for the procession that was leaving Grace Church in Eden Prairie and heading for Burnsville.

About 10,000 first responders, family, and community members from across the state gathered at the church to honor Burnsville’s fallen heroes — police officers Paul Elmstrand, 27, and Matthew Ruge, 27, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, 40 — with a ceremony that melded heartfelt eulogies, humor, and traditional tributes.

A 21-mile procession of nearly 1,500 police, fire, and emergency service vehicles from all over Minnesota and beyond, with their blue and red lights flickering in silence, was organized to honor the three fallen first responders who died on Feb. 18 while protecting seven children during a standoff and negotiation with an armed man in a Burnsville home.

The reason I am here today is because Eden Prairie paramedics saved my life,” Koch, the mother of two grown daughters, said. “I will always be there for first responders.”

 

On April 1, 2020, Koch suffered a massive stroke “that I never should have recovered from – and they were there,” she said of the first responders as tears welled in her eyes.

Koch, who lives in the Olympic Hills neighborhood, later learned that firefighters and paramedics were meeting at a nearby fire station when she suffered her stroke, which resulted in a quick response.

Koch was transported to M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital, where doctors discovered and removed two blood clots at the base of her brain.

“I’m perfectly healthy,” she said. “Thanks to them.”

Despite the freezing weather, Koch said she wouldn’t be anywhere else.

“They’re worth it,” she said. “They’re amazing human beings, and they deserve all our support and respect. Mainly our respect.”

 

Paying tribute to the fallen

Thousands from across Minnesota, many in uniforms of various colors, gathered to honor the memory of the three men.

Beneath large photographs of the men on the sanctuary’s stage, two flag-draped coffins stood for Elmstrand and Ruge. Next to them, a memorial for Finseth featured flowers, a folded flag, and his firefighter uniform, with his casket having been transported to Fort Snelling the day before.

Colleagues and commanding officers shared stories on stage that celebrated the three men’s professionalism, dedication, and courage.

Burnsville Police Sgt. Adam Medlicott spoke about his “partners and friends” Elmstrand and Ruge.

“I supervised both of them on nights, and I was standing with them on their final call,” said Medlicott, who was also shot on Feb. 18.

Medlicott shared that as one of Elmstrand’s field training officers, he had come to know him well. He recounted humorous anecdotes that amused the audience, such as Elmstrand mistakenly calling a getaway car “the go-away vehicle.”

Praising Elmstrand for being “smart and thoughtful,” Medlicott highlighted his friendly, personable, and outgoing nature. He revealed that Elmstrand had been contemplating a promotion to sergeant, adding, “Chief, I think Paul would have made an excellent sergeant,” Medlicott said.

Medlicott also described how he had trained and supported Ruge as an inexperienced new officer learning crisis negotiation. He praised Ruge’s immense professional growth since those early days.

“I was standing next to him on his last call, but now it was Matt that was doing all the talking,” he said. “And now it was me that was looking to him for the answer. I believed in him as a crisis negotiator. And everyone here should know he was doing an amazing job of it.”

He said he didn’t know Finseth as well as the other two, but “I saw you run into the line of fire to save me and my guys. You’re the bravest person I ever known. I will be forever grateful.

He concluded with a poignant message: “Elmstrand, Ruge, Finseth, we were there for seven children. Nothing could be more honorable. Rest easy, brothers.”

Burnsville Police Officer Pete Mueller reflected on his colleague Ruge, who joined the force alongside him in April 2020.

“His sense of humor and unwavering desire to make a difference immediately earned my respect,” he said.

Mueller commended Ruge’s “relentless work ethic,” his willingness for new challenges, and his strong partnerships and friendships within the department.

“I think the entire department would attest that it was impossible not to love Ruge,” he said. “He was smart, self-deprecating, quick-witted, humble, and last year, I watched Matt become a trusted resource for his partners, both old and new.”

Mueller, who was with Ruge on Feb. 18, said, “Those touched by Matt and his passing should know … he was extraordinarily heroic that morning.”

Mueller emphasized that Ruge’s hours-long negotiation efforts provided crucial time for law enforcement to secure additional resources at the scene, safeguarding many officers.

“Furthermore, when the unthinkable happened, Matt brought his partner Paul to safety, although he was hurt himself … Ruge repeatedly risked his life to save our friend and in doing so … made the ultimate sacrifice,” Mueller said.

Burnsville Deputy Police Chief Matt Smith recalled Elmstrand’s outsized sense of humor, “infectious laugh,” love of inside jokes, and fondness for the television show “The Office.”

He also lauded Elmstrand’s dedication to honoring fallen officers. Elmstrand was recently selected to be part of the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association (LEMA) honor guard. “He was so excited and proud” to be a part of LEMA and “would have honored the fallen, as we do today,” Smith said.

Brandon Johannsen, a captain with the Burnsville Fire Department, spoke about Finseth and the “significant impact” Finseth made on him as they worked together over the past 3-1/2 years.

“Adam was one of the most selfless individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He possessed an innate ability to put others’ well-being before his own, always ensuring that everyone around him felt seen, heard, and cared for,” Johannsen said. “His compassion knew no bounds, and his unwavering commitment to the happiness and commitment of those he cared for and loved was truly extraordinary.”

Burnsville Fire Chief BJ Jungmann talked about his work with Finseth over the past five years, noting that Finseth exemplified the department’s four cultural values: character, communication, collaboration, and competence.

“Adam displayed extreme dedication to the department,” Jungmann said, especially noting Finseth’s “impeccable character” and his “dedication, honor, and integrity.”

He described Finseth as having a servant’s heart and always seeking new ways to support his department beyond his firefighter-paramedic duties.

“What we all know about his actions during the final moments of his life, I can say without reservation, firefighter and paramedic Adam Finseth was tried, he was tested, and he was found worthy,” he said. “Adam died helping his comrades without a second thought.”

In his remarks near the end of the service, Burnsville Police chaplain Mark Patrick said that in his role with the Burnsville police and fire departments, he “spends his time with people in the worst moments of the worst days of their lives. And Sunday was one of those days for us, all of us.”

After Patrick offered a closing prayer and a poem was read, two police officers and one firefighter tolled the bell five times for each fallen comrade to announce their passing and recognize the years of protection they provided to their fellow citizens and the community.

“And so, to Paul, Matthew, and Adam, who have selflessly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, their task completed, their duties well done, we will again sound their last alarm,” Patrick said. “They have gone home.”

On a frigid but bright day, attendees witnessed three rifle volleys outside, followed by a helicopter flyover conducted by the Minnesota State Patrol, LifeLink, and North Memorial Health Hospital.

“It was a powerful and moving tribute to these three fallen heroes,” said George Esbensen, the former Eden Prairie fire chief who is now president of the nonprofit Minnesota Firefighter Initiative (MnFIRE). “I hope the shared love for one another on display by everyone, including the public, carries on well past today and that brighter days are ahead for us all. Love is the only way forward.”

Eden Prairie Police Chief Matt Sackett said it was an honor to support Burnsville and host such an important and meaningful event in Eden Prairie.

Sackett said he is proud of not only the city’s officers and firefighters but also the entire city. He said city staff from every department played a vital role in the planning and successful implementation, in conjunction with public safety entities and colleagues throughout the state. The staff at Grace Church were also incredible, generously offering their space, time, and resources without question.

“Though it was a difficult day for our friends in Burnsville and for first responders everywhere, it was a privilege to play a part in ensuring the lives and work of police officers Elmstrand and Ruge, and firefighter-paramedic Finseth will not be forgotten, Sackett said.