By Rachel Kytonen
Kristin Hill has known Chip Imker her entire life. She smiles as she talks about them both growing up in the Cambridge area, and Chip pushing her into the bushes or snow when they were kids, and attending CCD classes together during middle school.
They started dating in April 2001, and had two sons together, Hayden, 9 and Connor, 7. Chip was a self-employed general contractor and also a Cambridge firefighter.
Chip died May 24, 2011, at Hennepin County Medical Center as the result of an accident while participating in firefighter training at the Cambridge Fire Hall.
“I will have my moments, but not in front of the boys,” Kristin said during an interview on Saturday. “Chip used to call me everyday, and I miss those phone calls. I miss the end of the night—that was our family time. I miss his smile and his cocky grin. He was very laid-back and a fun-loving person. Most of the time, he had a smile on his face and would be goofing around with the boys. I’ve had a lot of support from the firefighters, family and friends. The word amazing doesn’t describe how supportive everybody has been.”
A benefit for Kristin and the family will be held Saturday, Sept. 10, from 3 to 10 p.m. at the Cambridge Fire Hall. The benefit will feature kids’
games, face painting, silent auction, beer garden, dunk tank and live music featuring The Suspects, from 4-6 p.m. and Whiskey Tango, 7-10 p.m. The firefighter’s marinated pork chops on a stick, as well as other food items will be sold.
The benefit will also feature a custom engraved—with the CFD maltese and Chip’s information—DPMS AR-15 .223 with a 20” bull barrel for $5 per ticket and a .357 Magnum to raffle off at 9 p.m. the night of the event.
Kristin, a 1993 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School, said she couldn’t have gotten through the past few months without the support from the firefighters, her friends and family, and co-workers at MinnCo Credit Union.
“The firefighters, my family, Chip’s family, our friends and my co-workers have been amazing,” Kristin said. “I’ve had a lot of people helping me out and offering to take the boys for a day, or do chores around the home. My neighbors have also been great, and helping out around the home.”
Chip, a 1994 graduate of Cambridge-Isanti High School, and Cambridge Fire Chief Sean Okerlund had been friends for many years when Okerlund asked Chip to join the fire department. Chip had served on the department for about 18 months when the accident occurred.
“Chip really liked being on the fire department, and he liked the group settings and the adventure,” Kristin said. “He couldn’t sit still and always had something going on to keep him busy. Our boys just thought he was the greatest.”
Kristin explained Chip also went through First Responder training so he could respond if needed.
“Chip was always helping friends and family,” Kristin said. “If a friend’s car broke down and was on the side of the road, Chip would be the first one to help. He would do anything he could to help anyone.”
Kristin explained Chip and the boys enjoyed spending time outdoors off-roading, 4-wheeling, riding on trails and hunting.
“Hayden is really having a harder time and both of them were supposed to go on hunting trips this year with their father,” Kristin said. “They think about all the things now they can’t do without them.”
Kristin said Hayden and Connor have the same “fun-loving” personality that Chip had.
“Emotionally, Chip kept a lot inside, except when it came to the kids,” Kristin said. “He was always kissing them and telling them he loved them. The boys share the same affection for people, and want to do things to help other people … The boys are a lot like their dad. He was a very good person, and I hope the boys grow up to be like him.”
Kristin was at home on Monday, May 23, when she got the phone call around 9:30 p.m. about Chip’s accident. Chip was immediately taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.
“Chip was talking after it happened … We knew they had to relieve pressure, but never thought ….” Kristin said. “I figured he would have some recovery time. I’ll never forget when they came in and told us they had bad news. I was not expecting that.”
Kristin said she was overwhelmed by the number of people who attended Chris’ funeral held at Cambridge-Isanti High School.
“The fire department is like one big family, but I wasn’t expecting anything like we saw at the funeral,” Kristin said. “Chip liked having fun, but not necessarily being the center of attention. I got a lot of cards from fire departments all over the state, as well as from neighboring states. The fire departments, police departments, service people, community members, friends and family, have all been very supportive and helpful.”
Kristin mentioned one highlight of the summer was when she, Hayden and Connor, were able to attend a Twins game, and both boys received a hat and a baseball. She also mentioned she and the boys have spent a lot of weekends up at a family cabin in Walker, and spent July 4 weekend with friends and family in Onamia.
Okerlund said the entire Cambridge Fire Department has appreciated the support it has received over the past few months.
“Anywhere we turn, people are offering their support, and if you need something, people just show up,” Okerlund said. “Kristin and the boys are a part of our family, and we’ve done our best to keep the boys busy and take them on parades with us to give Kristin a break.”
Okerlund first met Chip when he hired him 10 years ago to build a pole shed on his property.
“Chip was my go-to guy when it came to construction,” Okerlund said. He was an excellent construction worker, better friend.”
Okerlund mentioned the firefighters are also keeping busy and working on Kristin’s home to finish projects that Chip hadn’t gotten around to doing yet.
“It’s not just one guy doing everything; it’s all of us taking turns to get things done,” Okerlund said. “I think it is more for the healing process for us, and everybody being able to do their part and help in some way.”
For more information on the benefit, search for the Cambridge Fire Department on Facebook. If interested in donating silent auction items, call Sean Okerlund at 763-286-8633 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.