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Procession for fallen Appleton driver/engineer Mitchell F. Lundgaard draws hundreds

Posted at 6:54 PM, May 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-20 20:12:05-04

The City of Appleton paid its final respects to a fallen firefighter Monday afternoon.

Driver/Engineer Mitchell Lundgaard was killed while on a medical call last Wednesday. Monday, people in the city lined the streets for his procession.

"We have such loss," Wanda Paxton said. "It's so sad for all the firefighters, police officers and families involved. This shouldn't have happened here."

Paxton was one of the many outside of Station #1 in Appleton. The usually busy corner was eerily quiet today. The sound of fire engines filled the air; doing little more than idling, as they cruised at a slow speed through the neighborhood. One engine, draped in black, carried the coffin of Lundgaard. Six of his fellow firefighters protecting his casket as it weaved in and out of streets he's been responsible for keeping safe for the last 14 years.

"He made a tremendous sacrifice," Mike Page of Appleton said. "He goes to help save a life and then this. I don't know him personally but now you feel like you kind of do know him."

Many members of the community share the same sentiment. Even if they didn't know Lundgaard personally, they feel the pain of losing a valued member of the community. That sympathy and compassion goes a long way in helping the fire department grieve.

"It will help them heal," Fond du Lac Fire Chief Peter O'Leary said. "That's what we hope anyway. In a small way, we hope to be a part of that."

O'Leary's department and many others across the state filled in at the Appleton Fire Department today. The volunteers allowing for Appleton firefighters to leave their positions for the day to honor their fallen brother and mourn with the entire city surrounding them.

"It's incredible," O'Leary said. "It's moving. It means an awful lot to us. It means a lot to us as the firefighters standing around here. It means a lot to see the love and support this community has for their fallen firefighter"

O'Leary says this support can help the family through a tragic time as well. One such family that felt necessary to come out was Kayln Nelson's. She had her four young kids with her after deciding it was necessary to show their full, unwavering support.

"It's a little surreal something like this happened so close to home," Nelson said. "I had to explain to the kids what's happening and we haven't had to address something like that before so it was hard."

Nelson's life draws parallels to Lundgaards.

She has four young children.

Lundgaard had three.

Explaining that someone doing something good was killed was difficult enough. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to explain, Daddy isn't coming home.

"Our four-year-old says, that makes me really sad. It makes me want to cry," Nelson said. "To hear something like that from a 4-year-old, it gets you. It's a tough conversation. It was really important we came out here to do this."

Along the processional route are the same sights.

American flags, signs showing support and the occasional salute.

Chilling reminders of a community supporting normally nameless heroes in the community. They don't know Driver/Engineer Lundgaard, even though they feel like they do.

But in a small town, someone was bound to know the family.

"It's heartbreaking," Kelli Heindel of Appleton said. "But it's heartwarming at the same time the community cares that much to come out and support even in the middle of a workday."

Heindel's work will never be the same. She is co-workers with Lundgaard's now widowed wife. She was astounded by the public outpouring of support for the family but she knows this support will need to continue for years to come.

"We know we can't make this right," Heindel said. "But we know we can be there in the long haul for her and her family and her boys. That's what we're going to do."

Hundreds are doing what they can to help support the family, even financially. JJ Watt donated $10,000 to the family's official GoFundMe page and in the last three days, it has surpassed $170,000. Click here if you'd like to donate.