Duluth Firefighter Caleb Kittleson is Ready for Anything, 24/7/365

If you call 911 in Duluth, there’s a chance your first responder will be firefighter Caleb Kittleson.

And you’d be lucky to have him. At just 21 years old, Kittleson is young, strong, well-trained, and passionate about helping others.

In addition to fighting fires, Kittleson and his crew respond to any 911 call that isn’t a police matter. For instance, firefighters respond to medical emergencies, car accidents, water emergencies, trail rescues, and fire alarms in tandem with the Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service. All firefighters are trained EMTs, and some are paramedics.

Firefighters are even called out for dog rescues. You may have seen the Duluth Fire Department in the news recently when they heroically rescued a dog from the Canal Park harbor.

Whether called to assist a human or pet, it’s a calling Kittleson takes very seriously. “Our job is to be there for people on the worst day of their lives,” he noted. “The public puts 100% of their trust in us. We have to perform for them 24/7/365.”

Hometown of Rochester

Kittleson was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota. His father, Gary, worked as a career firefighter with 30 years of service. His mother, Erin, worked as a nurse at the Mayo Clinic. His parents have both recently retired and have relocated to Dallas, Texas, to work for Samaritan’s Purse - a ministry-based non-profit.

A family picture shows (L-R): Caleb’s dad, Gary; sister, Carolyn; Carolyn’s dog, Quinn; mother, Erin; sister-in-law, Katie; nephew, Rui; brother, Josh; and Caleb. Photo submitted.

So, it may come as no surprise that Caleb would follow in his parents’ footsteps. But it took him a while to reach that conclusion.

“For most of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he said. “But then, the Rochester Fire Department and my high school teamed up to offer courses through the PSEO program (post-secondary education option).

“I took some classes and realized it was a pretty cool career. Growing up, having my parents as role models helped, too. I earned my Firefighter I, Firefighter II, EMT, and HAZMAT certificates when I was still in high school.”

Growing up, Kittleson and his family frequently visited Duluth and the North Shore. He fondly remembers trips to the BWCA and enjoying the Superior Hiking Trail. It became his goal to eventually end up in Duluth.

A Few Pivots

After high school, Kittleson enrolled at Lake Superior College, where he completed his associate’s degree - in fire science and administration - online. He moved to the Twin Ports in 2021. Here, he initially worked for Continental Ski & Bike.

A few detours would follow. Kittleson left Duluth twice: his first move was to Mankato after receiving a job offer. Later, he worked for the Rochester Fire Department with his dad for a while. But still, Duluth beckoned.

Caleb and his dad, Gary, work together at the Rochester Fire Department. Photo submitted.

“Neither Mankato nor Rochester offered much for my hobbies or the life I wanted,” Kittleson said. “I love golfing at Nemadji, hiking and biking on the Superior Hiking Trail, and snowboarding at Spirit Mountain. Duluth has such amazing landscapes, opportunities for my hobbies, and great people. So, I came back in 2022.” This time, he plans to stay.

Caleb enjoys some mountain biking in Piedmont last summer with coworkers. Photo submitted.


Duluth has a total of eight fire stations. Kittleson works for the Duluth Fire Department’s downtown headquarters – also known as Station 1. He and his crew of 11 fellow firefighters and an assistant chief work 24-hour shifts there.

His crew at Station 1 works from 7 am to 7 am, but they are always early. “The culture here is always to show up early to relieve the other crew,” Kittleson noted.

The firefighters are always ready to drop everything and go when called. But on a slow day, the crew works together on tasks like cooking meals, cleaning the station, inspecting their equipment and fire truck, continuing their training, and completing administrative tasks.

Since their job is so physically demanding, staying in shape is imperative. The station has a gym, and the crew often work out together.

The call for lights out happens at 9 pm. At the station, the firefighters have dorm-style arrangements for sleeping. But that certainly doesn’t mean they have a peaceful night of rest ahead.

“Sometimes we sleep all night, and sometimes we get five calls after midnight. You just never know,” Kittleson said.


Kittleson and his crew share a deep bond that goes beyond being colleagues. “You basically live at the station with your coworkers,” he said. “They become like your family.

1 Engine and 1 Tower crews are shown after a search and rescue drill in the burn building at Lake Superior College. Photo submitted.

“One of the best parts about working in the fire service is that you’re living with some of your favorite people,” he added. “You do everything together. You have to be able to trust these people with your life completely. You ultimately grow super close because you know they have your back at all times.”

Beyond Fires

It may be surprising to learn that fighting fires is just a small part of what firefighters do. “I would say that roughly 90% of the calls we go on are medicals and lift assists,” he said.

One of Kittleson’s most memorable calls resulted in him saving the life of a dog. “I went into a burning house to do a primary search,” he explained. “It was dark and smoky, and I pretty much stumbled into this dog. I got the dog out, handed him off to another firefighter, and went back to fight the fire. The dog received oxygen and survived.”

“I hope to have a long career as a firefighter,” he said. “I want to continue learning and just be the best firefighter - and person - I can be.”


Kittleson enjoys many outdoor activities in his off time, such as hiking, biking, snowboarding, and golfing. Ultimately, he’d like to settle down and start a family. But at just 21, he has plenty of time.

Caleb enjoys some golfing in Kansas City with a coworker on the way home from a fire conference in Dallas, Texas. Photo submitted.

Most Rewarding

If you have the opportunity, please tell a firefighter that you appreciate their service. Kind words and gratitude mean a lot to them. And feedback is rare.

“The most rewarding thing about this work is getting thanked by people afterward,” said Kittleson. “We often don’t know what happens after we respond to a call. So, it’s always nice to hear later that we made a difference.”


Andrea Busche is a Duluth + regional freelance writer and small business owner. She is credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications and has been a frequent contributor to Destination Duluth since 2017.

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