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Blue Jackets impressed by visit to Columbus Fire stations

Bjorkstrand, Nutivaara talk about hockey, the firefighter life with first responders

by Jeffrey Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Somewhere between helping steer Ladder One out of the station, sliding down the pole at Columbus Division of Fire's Station 1 and putting on the full garb of a firefighter, Markus Nutivaara was overwhelmed by what he was seeing. 

If the Blue Jackets defenseman wasn't a hockey player -- and a darn good one -- he says he'd be a firefighter, and Tuesday's trip to visit local first responders was a glimpse of what his life would be like in that alternate reality. 

And it's no simple fascination with trucks, sirens or uniforms that drew Nutivaara in.  

LEARN MORE ABOUT FIRST RESPONDERS NIGHT

"Helping people is the biggest thing," he said. "You have to be fast. You have to be strong. You have to have every quality to succeed in everything here.  

'I just wanted to see everything here. It's pretty cool what these guys do. It's hard. It's really hard. I just appreciate it so much." 

Instagram from @bluejacketsnhl: Thanks to the @columbus_fire department for showing us around today!

And one thing Nutivaara and teammate Oliver Bjorkstrand learned during Tuesday's visit, which comes ahead of First Responders Night on Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the game vs. the New York Islanders, is that the worlds of professional sports and professional emergency responding aren't so different. 

Both hockey players and firefighters have to be in great shape to handle whatever physical challenge is asked of them. The fields require a fair bit of sacrifice, discipline, accountability and bravery. 

And in each, above all, teamwork is paramount for each unit to reach its goal. 

"If you aren't working as a team, you aren't winning," said firefighter medic Sean O'Donnell, one of three members of the Columbus Fire hockey team to conduct the tour at Station 1. "It's like the old saying goes, the weakest chain in the link is going to break, so everybody has to be up to par. Everybody has to be together to make it happen." 

As such, there was almost an instant camaraderie when the two Blue Jackets arrived at the station, one of two visited Tuesday by the players. 

At each stop, Nutivaara and Bjorkstrand toured facilities and learned about the day-to-day aspect of that line of work. Shortly after their arrival at Station 1, the siren sounded and the first responders on duty quickly scurried into action, leaving the facility about a minute after the call came in, drawing shocked faces from the two players.  

Included in the tour was the opportunity to slide down a fireman's pole, as well as a chance to put on the full regalia worn by firemen when they show up to the scene of a blaze, oxygen tanks included.  

Tweet from @JacketsInsider: No one tell Torts but here comes @OBjorkstrand down the pole. I think he���s officially a member of @ColsFire now #CBJ pic.twitter.com/jnQhcz7gLe

"It was really fun," Bjorkstrand said. "I've never seen a place like that. It was nice hearing about how their days are. When they're out there working, it's serious stuff. They probably form a special bond. The teamwork is there, and now I know a lot more about it and I'm happy I do. I respect what they do, and it was exciting to be there and see it."

Nutivaara and Bjorkstrand also presented the officers with a team-signed stick, a team-signed jersey and a flag to hang up in each facility. They also left with a deeper understanding of what it takes to live the firefighter life, from the 24-hour days to the culture within the unit. 

"It's just a challenge," Nutivaara said. "All the teamwork, and you see the guys there, all the guys sleep together. It's just like a team. You go with the guys. Of course the work is a little different. It's way harder." 

Before heading to America to play for the Blue Jackets, Nutivaara served his compulsory six months in the Finnish army, and it was obvious being back around the culture and structure of the firehouse resonated with him. 

And that it had such an impact on Nutivaara also resonated with his hosts. 

"It's awesome," O'Donnell said. "It's really nice to see. You see these guys when they're out on the ice, they're NHL stars, this, that, and the other, but they're humbled by the small stuff. They have a passion to play hockey, they love playing hockey, but it looks like he also has a passion that he wants to be a fireman one day and do that kind of thing. It's nice to see." 

Hockey Time 

One thing Nutivaara did not know was that Columbus Fire has its own hockey squad, which he learned while meeting the players during his visit Tuesday. 

"It was cool info for me," he said. "I kind of want to see how they play hockey and maybe play with them. It's pretty cool." 

While Nutivaara won't get the chance to skate with them, he might be able to see the firemen play this weekend. The Columbus Fire and Columbus Police teams, which have their own healthy rivalry, are teaming up Saturday for a game at Nationwide Arena against FDNY.  

The free contest will take part ahead of the Saturday night First Responders Night game, and O'Donnell said he hopes the city will be able to represent itself against one of the most notable teams in the country. 

"I don't know these New York boys, but I'm very excited to see what they are," O'Donnell said. "They say they're older, they're slower, but they're coming from New York. They're gonna have some bang behind their buck. We'll see how it plays out." 

For more information on First Responders Night, click here

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