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Adam Finseth wouldn't let fear get in his way — not from reaching out to make new friends, not from dancing in front of his high school classmates, and not from jumping into danger to help those around him.

Finseth, a Burnsville firefighter-paramedic, acted without hesitation in his last moments, too, when he descended with a SWAT team into a domestic violence call Feb. 18 and was shot to death after rendering aid to police. Officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand were also killed.

"I saw you run into the line of fire to save me and my guys," Burnsville Police Sgt. Adam Medlicott said Wednesday at the funeral service for all three men. Medlicott, who was injured in the same incident but survived, called 40-year-old Finseth "the bravest person I have ever known."

Friends and colleagues said Finseth was a caring man who was eager to serve others and seemed afraid of nothing.

His fearlessness was evident throughout his life, they said. In an obituary, his family remembered him as a "daredevil" as a child. High school friends said he was always ready to try new things.

At John Marshall High School in Rochester, Finseth volunteered to dance in an all-male half time show for a powder puff football game — and dragged his friend David Chiarini with him, Chiarini recalled. Chiarini, who was on the shy side, was initially upset, he said, but Finseth was confident and outgoing and made it fun.

"We had a blast doing it," Chiarini said, adding that the dance, which featured senior boys and the dance line team acting out goofy scenarios to music, was later revived for a Christmas pep rally.

Matt Arnold, a friend dating back to elementary school, said Finseth had a great sense of humor and humility — and he wasn't afraid to be vulnerable to put others at ease.

"If you were having a bad day or whatever, he's going to be the one who will brighten it," Arnold said.

Both men worked as lifeguards after graduation, then went on to Rochester Community and Technical College. After 9/11, Finseth was looking for direction in his life and enlisted in the U.S. Army, Arnold said. He served two tours in Iraq over a total of 27 months as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He attained the rank of staff sergeant in the military.

"He wanted to serve," Arnold said. "He had this purpose."

Though his family was nervous about Finseth joining the military, their support and nurturing nature allowed him to feel self-assured in difficult circumstances, Arnold said.

Finseth fell head-over-heels in love with his wife, Tara, after meeting her at his going-away party for the military, friends said. They married and had two children, Nora and Liam. Finseth shared with his family a love of the outdoors — camping in the Boundary Waters and playing outdoor sports.

Finseth's friends said he was the guy everyone could count on.

"Everyone says that they're Adam's best friend and it's true, somehow," said Tony Hughes, who was the best man in Finseth's wedding.

Chiarini said a video clip of Finseth circulated on social media after his death. Friends watched it just to hear Finseth's "infectious" laugh, which started loud and trailed off into a chuckle.

After working for fire departments in the cities of Savage and Hastings, among other places, Finseth was hired by the Burnsville Fire Department in 2019.

He planned to finish his career there, said Brian Edwards, emergency medical services chief for Northfield Hospitals and Clinics, where Finseth worked from 2012 to 2015.

Edwards, who ran into Finseth at a couple training sessions in recent years, said he watched him go from being an Emergency Medical Technician to a paramedic while working in Northfield. Switching to such a job that requires far more skill and decision-making can be hard for some people, Edwards said.

"He made that transition very well," Edwards said. "I think he realized .... that there's a job that needs to be done and I need to do it."

Firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, center, stood with members of the Red Team of the 2021 Tactical EMS School. Finseth was the Red Team Leader.
Firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth, center, stood with members of the Red Team of the 2021 Tactical EMS School. Finseth was the Red Team Leader.

Finseth later joined the Burnsville SWAT team – an even more intense position – as one of their two medics.

While training for that position during a vigorous course at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minn., other attendees chose him to lead one of four teams, said Todd Burke, director of the program.

"We noticed him from the very beginning because he always had a smile and kind word," Burke said. "When you put an individual like that on a team, he lifts everybody up."

Finseth was assertive but never cocky, Burke said. He mentored less-experienced teammates including Burke's teenage daughter, who was also enrolled in the class.

"It was about helping the person next to you succeed," Burke said. "You have to accept you're putting yourself at risk in a life-threatening environment to save potentially savable lives."

Burke said Finseth, despite appearing fearless at times, likely had some anxiety on the job, as everyone in his position does. But he said he believes Finseth was able to control it by focusing on the mission at hand.

"It's not a job, it's a calling," Burke said of Finseth's career as a firefighter, first responder and SWAT team member. "He brought medicine to the battlefield."