Jennifer Brooks
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While Burnsville grieved, its neighbors stood watch.

On Wednesday, the day of the funerals, Rice County reported for duty.

Eleven Rice County sheriff's deputies arrived, along with officers from the Rice County jail and police officers from Northfield, Faribault and Lonsdale. They came to patrol someone else's town and protect someone else's neighbors, in honor of the three men who died doing just that.

There was a call for help. A violent man with a gun, threatening a woman and seven children. Police officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge and fire department paramedic Adam Finseth answered the call and lost their lives.

Every day since, neighboring communities have sent their own to patrol Burnsville and to give the local first responders space to grieve and time to heal.

"Law enforcement is one big family," said Rice County Sheriff Jesse Thomas. "We try to take care of each other when we can."

But even on a day like Wednesday, with thousands of mourners flooding into Burnsville to pay their respects in the bitter cold, there will still be calls for help. Car accidents. Medical emergencies. Break-ins. Maybe even another domestic violence call.

If Burnsville calls for help, their neighbors will help answer.

Over the past week, Burnsville has received mutual aid from dozens of agencies in almost as many communities, said Carissa Larsen, the city's director of communications and community engagement.

Ten out-of-town agencies have sent paramedics to help cover emergency medical services. Firefighters from 14 different communities have protected Burnsville. And 22 law enforcement agencies have supplemented the city's police force.

"We're coming together here," said West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon. "Dakota County has always come together in times of need, and we'll provide services for as long as they need."

West St. Paul has been sending officers since the start, often doubling up with local officers as they learn their way around. Burnsville police ride with company from West St. Paul one day, then South St. Paul, Anoka or Bloomington.

"It's just nice having two people in a squad when you're in a community you might not be familiar, for navigation and things of that nature," Sturgeon said.

It's nice, sometimes, to know you're not in this alone.

"We understand when we take this job," Thomas said. "I understood when I took a job in law enforcement that someday I might get shot at. Someday I might get shot. Someday I might actually die. You hate to think that's ever going to happen, but that's reality."