Beloved volunteer firefighter, MnDOT worker laid to rest in Belle Plaine

Beloved volunteer firefighter, MnDOT worker laid to rest in Belle Plaine

Beloved volunteer firefighter, MnDOT worker laid to rest in Belle Plaine

At a memorial service on Saturday morning in Belle Plaine, Commissioner of Transportation Nancy Daubenberger, on behalf of Gov. Tim Walz, declared Sept. 9 “Michael ‘Mike’ Gerard Gau Day” in Minnesota, in honor of the longtime volunteer firefighter and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) worker being laid to rest.

RELATED: Procession held to honor longtime Belle Plaine firefighter, MnDOT employee killed in work accident

Gau, 54, was remembered as a family man, leaving behind a wife, three children and six grandchildren, and for his community service as a 23-year veteran volunteer firefighter at Belle Plaine Fire Department. He was named the agency’s 2021 Firefighter of the Year.

He was “hit by a truck and killed in a work zone incident” on Aug. 30, a MnDOT spokesperson confirmed last week. “This occurred on the Rockford Road/Highway 169 project in Plymouth.”

“I talked to him that day for about 35 minutes. And an hour and half later, tragedy happens,” said MnDOT co-worker Jason Karsten as he prepared to walk to into the memorial service.

“He plowed the route that I would come to work on, because I live in Owatonna and I work in Chaska. And he knew when I was coming, because he would get me to the shop,” Karsten remembered. “I’m gonna miss that.”

Nearby, the wife of another fellow MnDOT employee added a sticker the size of the existing state department logo to the plow truck that Gau drove. The new insignia read “Michael Gau,” wrapped in a white ribbon.

To Karsten, Gau was much more than a co-worker, he was a family friend and a hunting buddy.

“That’s what we’re supposed to be doing today,” he said.

Inside the school auditorium, Belle Plaine Fire Chief Steve Otto, speaking directly to Gau, said, “We will miss your leadership, we will miss your dedication and we will miss your opinions, but most of all, we’ll miss your friendship.”

“It’s difficult to lose one of your own,” said Heidi Johnson, a member of the Red Knights International Firefighters Motorcycle Club.

A couple dozen members from a handful of the club’s Minnesota chapters led a sea of ruby-red firetrucks and other first responders in a procession following the service.

“We knew as members of the Red Knights that we were going to be part of it. But then, when we were asked to be out front, it’s even more of an honor to do that, to lead this,” said fellow Red Knight Dale Lehman.

Asked how he’d like the public to remember his friend, Karsten said, “His smile, his cheerfulness.”

“Mike was a guy of everybody. He was friends with everybody, liked everybody, enjoyed everybody, would help anybody,” he added.

Plymouth Police did not immediately respond to a request for an update into the investigation on Saturday.